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Packed agenda for council meeting

By Staff | Nov 24, 2012

It could be a long night for the Cape Coral City Council when it holds its regular meeting Monday at city hall.

Numerous items that have been incubating for weeks, and in some cases months, will be discussed and – likely – voted on.

The vote for how to pay for scrub jay mitigation was re-debated last week when Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz suggested that the county’s 20/20 conservation fund pay the nearly $800,000 tab to develop new habitat for the endangered species in Alva instead of using money from the city’s general fund.

Conservation 20/20 funds are derived from a voter-approved tax initiative countywide. The city’s general fund is comes primarily from Cape-only property taxes.

The city needs to mitigate habitat if it wants to develop Festival Park in the northwest section of the city where several of the birds have been found.

Mitigation also would allow development of other properties should the birds decide to move.

City spokesperson Connie Barron said City Manager John Szerlag spoke to the 20/20 administrators this week, but it was unknown if there was any progress on the issue.

“The administrators said (mitigation) wouldn’t be an approved use of the fund, but that wasn’t in writing,” Barron said.

Councilmember Kevin McGrail said the alternative to this mitigation plan, which was previously approved by council, would be more expensive.

“For us to buy land and mitigate ourselves would be more expensive. Nobody likes to spend money but it beats the alternative,” McGrail said.

The vote was originally scheduled for Nov. 5, but was continued so the issue of funding could be discussed further.

Barron said that could again be possible if no resolution is found.

An issue that has also been pending for a while may finally be settled when council is expected to vote on a change in land use from commercial activity center to single-family residential for certain properties on Trafalgar Parkway and Chiquita Boulevard.

The land is already zoned residential, but state laws dictate the land use and zoning match.

Because the zoning and land use didn’t match, the discrepancy has prevented people from getting permits for seawalls or building a house.

In August, council corrected what a majority believed was an error in judgment on their part concerning the land use near a neighborhood on Southwest 15th Place and voted to make the land-use change.

“We’re closing the loop on that one. It went to the state for approval and now it’s back here,” McGrail said. “The land use should have stayed single family.”

There also will be a myriad of other business, such as the appointment of the mayor pro-tem (currently Kevin McGrail), where council members will serve as city and county committee chairs or liaisons, and a vote is possible on how to conduct meetings for 2013.

Councilmember Rana Erbrick suggested last week the council conduct voting meetings every week, the use of a newly formatted agenda, and to hold Tuesday meetings when there is no Monday meeting due to a holiday.

McGrail thinks her proposals will gain little support due to scheduling conflicts.

“She’ll hear that we can’t move to Tuesday because everyone’s plans are in conflict. When you make changes, it throws people for a loop,” McGrail said.

Also, city council is expected to vote whether to allow the city to hire consultant Zucker Systems to look into the city’s permitting and zoning practices, among other things, at a cost of $70,000.

“The goal is standardize permitting processes and make Cape Coral fair and predictable and be able to bring in new business,” McGrail said. “It could be money well spent.”

Another consultant, Burton & Associates, which will look into financial diversification at a cost of $50,000. Szerlag doesn’t need a formal vote from council on an item at or under that price tag.

“He specifically asked them and he proceeded with Burton,” Barron said.

Szerlag’s mantra from the beginning has been the need to find additional revenue to keep the city from financial chaos and allow it to continue providing services.

The recommendations made by the consultants could open the door for another ordinance that would allow council to collect non ad-valorem assessments to fund the cost of running certain operations within the city..

Also, there will be an ordinance amending the ordinance which adopted the city’s operating budget, revenues and expenditures, and capital budget for 2012, by increasing the total revenues and expenditures by $18,670,375.

Barron said while the numbers are large, it’s a case of final bookkeeping.

“It’s just to close out 2012. Some of the money gets carried over and moved around. It’s not just the general fund, but all over,” Barron said.