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Council to meet on ‘financial sustainability’ Wednesday

By Staff | Apr 2, 2013

Cape Coral City Council will meet Wednesday to discuss revenue sources to ensure the city’s financial sustainability.

The special session will be held in Council Chambers at 4:30 p.m.

Some say it could be the most important meeting the city has had in a long time, because it could shape the future of the city.

Burton & Associates, a consulting firm the city hired to look at ways Cape Coral can keep its head above water financially, will present its revenue/expenditure model and review the various options to council. Mike Burton will use the model to address any combination of options suggested.

“This is an opportunity to help make the city of Cape Coral economically sustainable for now and in the immediate future,” city spokesperson Connie Barron said.

In a city that relies mostly on property taxes to fund operations, Barron said you’re always at the whim of others. And recent decisions regarding homesteading and other unfunded mandates in Tallahassee, as well as the housing market, have had a serious impact.

Barron said the city could consider a public service tax Cape Coral is the only city with a population over 50,000 that does not have one consider a fire services assessment, or change the millage rate, or opt for none of the suggested options.

“They can increase revenues or not and perhaps begin the process of dismantling the organization,” Barron said. “Even if we did nothing, according to the model, we could be out of (reserve) money in three years.”

The meeting was scheduled following Council’s strategic planning discussion last Wednesday, which addressed the city’s growing challenges to provide services with what some say are inadequate funding sources.

At that meeting, Burton & Associates presented a revenue/expense model to illustrate options available to allow the city to establish a path toward financial sustainability.

“The model will show different scenarios from a revenue and expense point of view,” Barron said. “They are not going to tell city council what to do, rather allow them to look at different scenarios with regard to diversification and make a determination where it wants to go.”

City Manager John Szerlag has said looking at alternate revenue sources is the only way for the city to maintain services and preserve a high quality of life for its residents.

Among the many things that were ignored during the financial crunch was capital improvements, which allowed computers, roads and police cars to age, sometimes well beyond its expected usefulness, without replacement.

“The city manager has said that councils in the past mortgaged the city’s future by ignoring capital, and the future has become our present,” Barron said. “It has to decide whether it wants to reestablish our capital, and if they want to do that, it will require revenue.”

To others, the phrase “financial sustainability” is code for new fees and taxes, a possibility some already have begun to naysay.

Mayor John Sullivan said the city has to find more ways to save money instead of spend it.

“Buying $13 million in land we don’t need, we need to stop doing that,” Sullivan said. “I’m not in favor of raising revenues until we look at everything.”

Sullivan believes as the market improves, so will property values and, therefore, tax revenues from that existing source.

“I believe real estate prices are going to get better and the next year or so it will take care of itself because we’ll have more money coming in,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think we’re shaking the tree enough.”

The meeting is open to the public.