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Consultant, non ad valorem collection option OK’d by council

By Staff | Nov 27, 2012

Cape Coral City Council agreed Monday to hirer a consulting firm to look at ways to save money and also to look at alternative taxes and assessments to raise more revenue.

Council voted 6-2 to hirer the consulting firm of Zucker Systems as well as to explore “revenue diversification.”

Neither vote came easy.

The city council was a little concerned with the way the city manager brought forth a resolution to approve hiring a the consultant to look into best practices for the city.

And residents were very concerned over what it could mean in terms of new fees and assessments.

Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz wrangled with City Manager John Szerlag over an ordinance being handed to him “on the dais.”

“How many items have you signed off on before reading them? I had no chance to read this,” Chulakes-Leetz said.

Szerlag explained that any delay could cost the city the availability of Zucker Systems.

“The alternative is to continue, but we could lose progress. Zucker isn’t taking new clients,” Szerlag said. “To continue until Dec. 10 will delay the project.”

The councilman was not appeased.

“Let me remind you the last city manager got chastised and fired for hiring consultants,” Chulakes-Leetz said.

“I’m aware of the quality of people they hired and the quality of the ones we hired,” Szerlag countered.

Councilmember Lenny Nesta said he was in favor of bringing in the consultant, but not the way it was presented. Meanwhile, Councilmember Derrick Donnell placed his trust in Szerlag.

“I understand service contracts. I’ confident the city manager and staff will do is right,” Donnell said. “We might find efficiencies. It could be we need to hire more staff and need to find more revenues.”

Mayor John Sullivan said he would not support the contract if there was no guarantee council would support the consultants’ recommendations.

“I have faith in the city manager, but if we don’t take his recommendations, we’re throwing $65,000 out the window,” Sullivan said. “I will not support revenue diversification.”

Sullivan and Chulakes-Leetz voted against the ordinance.

On the subject of revenue diversification, or finding funding sources in addition to or in lieu of property taxes, council passed a companion bill allowing the city to potentially impose fees and assessments on certain items if the need arises.

This brought consternation from residents during public input.

“It’s another way for the city to raise taxes. It’s like sending a kid to college with a credit card and he maxes it out,” said Steve Lovejoy. “This is thievery. Where does it end? You get good financial people and you throw them out.”

“I dispute putting things into a tax that can’t be written off,” Dave Gonzalez said. “At least ad valorem is still tax deductible.”

Most on council weren’t swayed, as McGrail told them it isn’t as if these forms of financial diversification are pending.

“None of this has been brought forward. These are potential. They’re there if the need arises,” McGrail said. “Fire and police aren’t free. We have an aging fleet. If we can’t get to a fire, it doesn’t matter how good you are.”

With that, council voted 6-2 to pass the ordinance, with Sullivan and Chulakes-Leetz opposed.

In other business, council named Rana Erbrick mayor pro-tem for 2013. It also approved Erbrick’s being named chairwoman of the Community Redevelopment Agency, with McClain being vice-chair.

Council also voted to change the land use for properties on intersection of Trafalgar Parkway and Chiquita Boulevard to single family from Commercial Activity Center and commercial/professional. The vote was 6-2, with Erbrick and McClain dissenting.