Updated: Monday budget workshop postponed
Cape Coral City Manager John Szerlag has closed City Hall and other city facilities on Monday and declared a local state of emergency for Cape Coral. The budget workshop scheduled for Monday evening also has been canceled.
Officials said earlier if the workshop was canceled due to Tropical Storm Isaac it would be rescheduled for later in the week
Isaac may have put a damper on the meeting planning process but the Cape Coral City Council will hold a budget workshop next week, regardless.
As of press time Friday, the meeting remains set for 4:30 p.m. Monday at city hall in council chambers.
If storm projections change, the meeting will be rescheduled to some other time in the week.
Officials agree, there is much to discuss.
Talking points are likely to include City Manager John Szerlag’s first-ever multi-year budget proposal, pension benefits and capital improvements,
Szerlag plans to discuss the benefits of a three-year plan at the workshop and how it will help the city plan what it needs to do in the long run, said city spokesperson Connie Barron.
“It focuses on what the city is to do in the long run and not on the next 12 months,” Barron said. “A three-year budget is no different than a one- or two-year budget. It’s not a static document, it’s not inflexible. Things happen.”
There are some on council who don’t need to be sold.
“I think it’s excellent. Szerlag is a true professional and he understands things change,” said Councilmember John Carioscia. “Capital improvements, benefits and salaries are on the table, and looking three years down the road is an excellent idea.”
“I have no problem with it as long as the numbers are accurate. We need to make sure the projections are within reason,” Mayor John Sullivan said. “Forward planning is always good.”
Among the many issues expected to be discussed will be money for needed items and capital projects, which most admit were neglected item during the bust years.
“Vehicles, computers, all had to be put in the back seat to balance the budget,” Barron said. “That was the victim of the recession.”
For Councilmember Rana Erbrick, it’s the solid waste issue and the rebates to recyclers that could create a hole in the budget
“Solid waste turned into something it wasn’t meant to be. If you want to repay recyclers $850,000, that’s fine, as long as you have contingencies. You have to find that money somewhere,” she said. “We can’t keep putting this on the backs of the employees.”
For Sullivan and Councilman Chris Chulakes-Leetz, the big issue on the table is employee pensions.
“Sustainability, and that involves pensions and OPEB liabilities,” Sullivan said. “We need to get that under control in a responsible manner.”
“If we don’t attend to the pension issue, not only will the short-term be difficult, but the longterm will be worse,” Chulakes-Leetz said. “Current workers are suffering at the hands of former workers and we haven’t addressed it. We just keep kicking the issue down the road.”
Also new this year is the decision to televise the workshops and how this might affect the discussion process.
Workshops were previously held in Conference Room 220A, in what some say was a more relaxed atmosphere without what they fear may be an opportunity for on-camera grandstanding.
“It should be held in the conference room. The department heads and council could hole up there and go through the budget,” Erbrick said. “It was more relaxed and informal. Doing this could turn this into a dog-and-pony show.”
Sullivan had a different view.
“It should be televised. We want our residents to be informed because we’re messing with their money,” he said. “My platform was to make government as transparent as possible and that’s the only way you get trust from the people.”
Whatever the case, Monday may make for an interesting evening as, by law, such discussions may only be had at a public meeting.
“Each council member has pet projects and pet peeves, and we’ll find out what they are,” Erbrick said. “We’ll wait and see.”
“We’ll have a discussion and see if the majority wants a tax increase or hold the line and make the difficult decisions,” Leetz said. “We have a financial situation that demands attention. We can’t say it’s not a problem.”
“We’ll use common sense. We’re not building rockets. Everyone will have their chance to express their point of view,” Carioscia said. “I don’t jump up and down too much. I take the listening approach. We’ll know more Monday.”