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Final city budget hearing Thursday

By Staff | Sep 16, 2011

Cape Coral City Council is set to approve the fiscal year 2012 budget on Thursday during a public hearing set for 5 p.m.

The first budget hearing spiraled into battle of wills between citizens and the mayor, with the mayor demanding order and civility while threatening the audience with lengthy recesses if it got out of control.

Council chambers was filled with public safety personnel and citizens wanting to know if the mayor was going to rescind his veto of the police and fire budgets, a move he made during city council’s budget workshop.

When the crowd made some minor noise at the opening of the public hearing, the mayor lived up to that threat, shutting the hearing down for at least 30 minutes. He was eventually coaxed back to the dais after union leaders and former Councilwoman Dolores Bertolini asked for patience and quiet.

It’s unknown whether the mayor will take the same approach Thursday, but two administrative discussion items on the agenda for Monday’s City Council workshop appear to be aimed at crowd presence and participation.

Councilman Pete Brandt sponsored an item that will establish “ground rules” for the budget hearing, but that item was withdrawn.

Sullivan is sponsoring an item called “Meeting Decorum,” but it’s unknown whether the item is aimed strictly at the budget hearing.

Neither Brandt nor Sullivan returned phone calls for comment Friday.

More important than crowd control will be whether or not City Manager Gary King will be bringing back a revised budget that includes layoffs for both police and fire.

Council voted to give King the authority to propose a budget that included layoffs of police and fire to fill a $4.5 million gap after both unions failed in recent weeks to ratify their negotiated contracts.

King said Friday that he doesn’t want to impose layoffs but they are still an option.

“I want to avoid layoffs and furloughs,” King said. “But as an executive manager, I can never say those things are off the table. It’s the last choice, the least popular choice.”

King said his budget proposal will be no different from the first public hearing, a “tactical” move using vacancies and trimming expenses to make up the $4.5 million deficit.

King said he had no plans to dip into what’s called “Level 3” cuts, which would have decimated many of the Parks and Recreation Department functions, but will instead have the city teetering on the brink of declines in service levels.

“These are tactical solutions that will push us to the edge of service levels,” King said. “That doesn’t terminate someone, so to speak, but we do lose that resource … you can only do so much before service is effected.

“We’re scrambling to find every expense reduction opportunity in our power,” King added.

Councilmember Kevin McGrail said he has not seen any new proposal by the city manager.

He said he’s “in the dark” about how the city manager plans to fill the deficit.

“At this stage, I’ve seen nothing that indicates where he’s going to come up with that $4.5 million,” McGrail said.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 33 President Kurt Grau said he and his fellow union members are expecting layoffs to be imminent.

Grau said he was handed a list of 11 names of officers currently in positions that are being eyed for termination. None of those positions are vacant, he said.

“These 11 guys need to be told face to face they’re going to lose their jobs,” Grau said. “These are actual names, not empty positions.”

Grau is concerned that the officers have become consumed with whether or not they are going to lose their jobs. And not just the 11 positions, but more.

“They’re minds are distracted. Their upset, their families are upset … their heads aren’t where they should be,” Grau added.

Councilmember Marty McClain expects Thursday’s budget hearing to be as packed with people as the last, and he anticipates the crowd to be as vocal as it was previously.

He wouldn’t support the cutting of police and fire, he said, since the council had the option to set the millage at the rollback rate, which would have avoided the problems they’re currently having.

Had council set the millage at 8.22, it would have equated to an additional $11 for most citizens on their tax bills.

“It’s their money and we need to be aware it’s their money we’re spending,” McClain said. “The citizens are frustrated because our level of service could be jeapordized for $11 per capita.”