Mayor makes it official: Vetoes public safety budgets
By DREW WINCHESTER
Residents attending the first budget hearing today will find a zero next to the city’s police and fire departments, as the mayor decided to use his line item veto power to excise those departments from the FY 2012 budget.
As a result, the city of Cape Coral is now working without a balanced budget as it moves closer to FY 2012, which takes effect on Oct. 1.
The city has a final budget hearing set for Sept. 22, which leaves city council less than three weeks to deal with unfunded public safety.
Mayor John Sullivan used the option because he said the numbers for the departments “don’t work” within the budget as they stand and if the city manager is unable to come up with other solutions, then privatizing or outsourcing the departments may be an option.
“I don’t care how he gets the real number. I don’t care if he looks at privatization. Matter of fact, I’d prefer him do that,” Sullivan said
The Police Department’s budget was set at $33 million in the budget proposed by City Manager Gary King. The Fire Department’s budget was set at $25.8 million.
Those numbers were based on both unions accepting a 5 percent overall decrease, 3 percent in wages and 2 percent in added pension contributions.
When the union memberships failed to ratify their contracts the city was left with a $4.5 million hole in next year’s budget, according to City Finance Director Victoria Bateman.
As both unions are now at impasse with the city, King is left with cutting jobs or imposing furloughs on those departments, officials said.
The city could look to private companies for both police and fire, but Cape Coral Police Chief Jay Murphy warned that it could cost more to have the Lee County Sheriff’s Office police the streets of Cape Coral than its own.
Murphy said it costs roughly $214 per resident for the CCPD to maintain law and order in the city, while it costs the LCSO $230 per resident in the unincorporated areas of Lee.
“On a dollar-for-dollar basis, we are equal to or more efficient than the sheriff,” Murphy said.
Public safety personnel are expected to turn out in force on Thursday at 3 p.m. outside City Hall to protest the mayor’s decision, prior to the budget hearing, according to Cape Coral Professional Firefighters Union Local 2424 President Mark Muerth
Muerth said the mayor is putting the public’s safety in jeopardy with his veto. And he added that private companies will care more about their bottom line than they will about the community.
Muerth is confidant a majority of Cape Coral does not want a privatized fire department.
“Private companies only want to make a profit,” Muerth added. “We don’t believe that is what the public really wants.”
City council will officially give the city manager the authority to explore those other options on Thursday, although they unofficially set him on that path during a budget workshop held Tuesday.
Council could also, by supermajority, vote to override the mayor’s veto on Thursday, but Sullivan said he would retract it himself if the city manager is able to come with numbers for both departments that aren’t “erroneous.”
“I will pull the veto off the table if I get a real number,” Sullivan said.
Councilman Chris Chulakes-Leetz described the mayor’s veto as both a “scare tactic” and a “nuclear option.”
“We can’t move forward with a zero budget for police and fire. It makes no sense,” Chulakes-Leetz said.
Several levels of reductions are available to the council to help make up some of the $4.5 million hole, but at least one of those options is extreme.
Level 3 reductions, as identified by King, include shutting down a vast majority of the Parks and Recreation amenities, including the Yacht Club, the Lake Kennedy Senior Center and the Special Populations programs.
Should council accept all level three cuts, they would find themselves with just over $6.6 million in additional money but losing a large chunk of jobs and programs, including the shuttering of Fire Stations nine and ten.
The council could use a mix of the three levels of cuts, but they made no indication as to which combination of reductions would be acceptable.
The city will have just over $21 million in undesignated reserves, as identified by Bateman, for the FY 2012 budget.
The city is required to maintain two months of reserves, according to the city charter.
It costs roughly $9 million a month for the city to operate, but using the remaining $3 million in reserves to help balance the budget doesn’t sit well with the city’s finance director.
“I cringe every time the reserves are mentioned,” Bateman said.
City council is set to meet today, at 5:05 p.m., for the first budget hearing.
City Hall is on Cultural Park Boulevard.