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Final budget hearing is Thursday

By Staff | Sep 15, 2012

With no city council meeting on Monday, Cape Coal’s primary business will be conducted Thursday when council holds its final hearing on the proposed budget for the new fiscal year.

The operating budget under consideration totals $459,821,080, a 4.13 percent increase over last year’s adopted financial plan. The general fund proposal is approximately $142 million, up from $138 million in 2011-12.

No increase in the property tax rate is proposed.

As tendered, the millage would remain at the current rate of 7.9570 mills, or just shy of $7.96 cents for every $1,000 of taxable valuation.

Due to an overall bump in property valuations last year, the city will, however, collect slightly more in property tax revenue, about $2,497,101, or 2.8 percent over last year.

At the first hearing held Sept. 6, most of the two dozen or so residents attending criticized both the $460 million dollar proposal and the tax rate, looking for reductions in both.

At that meeting, the millage rate and dollar amount got their first nod, both by a 6-2 council vote.

At this stage in the process, the ball remains in city council’s court as no specific instruction has been provided to City Manager John Szerlag as to any additions or deletions.

“The budget is balanced,” city spokesperson Connie Barron said. “It’s up to the council (whether) to adopt the budget as is. The city manager has no intent to modify it without direction from council.

Council still can make changes however the budget passed must be balanced.

In addition to the both the total and the tax rate, another sticking point has been a call for the city to explore “financial diversification,” with Szerlag telling the board previously he likely will request authorization to hire a consultant to help find alternative revenue sources so the city is not almost solely reliant on property taxes.

This consultant, the request for which is not in the 2013 budget, also would look into the city’s organizational structure and composition at a cost that could be as high as $400,000.

While not exactly on the table as part of the budget proposal, it already has some supporters.

“I know he’d like to see it happen. It’s just finding the money. I expect he’d find it by finding efficiencies to pay the consultant,” Councilmember Rana Erbrick said.

Szerlag also wants to bring back the assistant city manager position and hire as many as 22 new workers.

Whether he gets either the positions or ultimate authorization to look down the road for alternate sources of revenue remains to be seen.

Mayor John Sullivan is adamant that no new taxes be added and that the city manager find more cuts to get the $14 million he says the city needs annually for capital improvements and other essentials.

“We need a millage rate rollback. Leaving it is a tax increase. Raising taxes, revenue diversification, I won’t support,” Sullivan said. “He wants to hire 22 more people, an assistant city manager. I’m not in favor of it.”

Councilmember Chris Chulakes Leetz, the other no vote at the first budget hearing, took a similar view.

“I expect the city manager to act in a financially responsible manner as the residents of Cape Coral do. No additional spending, staffing or an assistant city manager,” Chulakes-Leetz said. “Unless Szerlag disposes, he’s training his replacement.”

Following council’s vote Thursday, Barron said individual departments will begin work on the 2014 budget while Szerlag will spend the next nine months making decisions on a three-year budget he would like to implement.

“The three-year plan should come in the next few months,” Barron said. “The departments will look at things for 2014 as soon as the 2013 budget goes through. By then, decisions have to be made. That’s the priority for Szerlag, to talk to the council and community.”