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Cape council gives manager the ability to look at layoffs; mayor withdraws vetoes

By Staff | Sep 8, 2011

City Council authorized Gary King to look at cutting jobs in the police and fire departments to help fill what officials say is a $4.5 million gap in next year’s budget.

Giving King that authority also led to Mayor John Sullivan revoking his lveto of those departments’ budgets.

Sullivan exercised that power earlier this week when he zeroed the budgets for both departments, saying the numbers “weren’t real”, after union memberships for both departments failed to ratify contracts negotiated by the city and their bargaining units.

Now that those departments are technically funded once again, it’s unclear how that gap will be made up.

Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz said lay-offs were the last thing he wanted, but the city manager now had all the tools in his “tool box” to make up that $4.5 million deficit.

“We’re not looking at a reduction in force, that’s not the first thing,” Chulakes-Leetz said.

Some on council worried they gave up too much power to the city manager, allowing him to bring forward an 11th hour budget that includes layoffs if he believes that’s the best, or only, way, to make the numbers work.

“This council has turned over its final say to the city manager with this vote that was not my intention,” Councilman Kevin McGrail said.

Lowering the millage rate from 7.972 to 7.872 looked good for those running for re-election, according to McGrail, but it saved tax payers very little in the long run.

Council also had the option to set the millage rate at the rollback rate of 8.22, which would have cost McGrail an additional $11 as a homeowner, he said.

Councilman Marty McClain said the city gave up a lot when it would have cost very little to residents to set the millage at the rollback rate, the rate which would have brought in the same amount of revenue in property taxes.

“This council gave the city manager to the authority to destroy lives and careers to save 11 bucks,” McClain said.

City Manager Gary King said he would bring the proposal back to council for its final vote.

“I’m not looking to destroy lives,” King said.

As the city is at an impasse with both unions, union leadership said the possibility of layoffs is giving the city manager too much power.

“It should be brought in front of council and the decision should be theirs,” said Kurt Grau, police union president.

“We’ve been trying to work toward an agreement but there has to be a give and take here,” Grau added.

Cape Coral Professional Firefighters Union Local 2424 President Mark Muerth said the city and union can find a way to reduce costs through the year without layoffs.

“As we go through the fiscal year we can work hard to find ways to save money,” Muerth said. “There doesn’t need to be a reduction in force and get the public up in arms. We don’t need to jeopardize public safety. It doesn’t make sense.”

Sullivan said his veto was never to put pressure on the unions.

“It was to put pressure on the city manager, not on the workers and unions,” Sullivan said. “This was blown way out of proportion and it shouldn’t have been. It was twisted to be something other than it was meant to be.”

Council approved a tentative budget of 444,962,310 and a total millage rate, including debt service, of 9.782.