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Cape, county discuss toll agreement

By Staff | Apr 13, 2013

The joint meeting between the Board of County Commissioners and city council opened Friday with Commissioner Frank Mann asking if he was held to the city’s civility rule.

Many in council chambers laughed, and apparently Mann felt he was held to it, for it was a very civil – and very brief – meeting, with most controversial issue, the Ceitus boat lift, not even mentioned during the 45-minute discussion.

The hot issue was the toll agreement between the city and county and not only how the toll money should be divided, but on the amount of input the city should have on where it’s spent.

City Councilmember Kevin McGrail said that until a few years ago, neither side could do a year-by-year auditing of the numbers, and that both sides let slide the time between negotiations of the terms.

“We’re both at fault. The last time the toll agreement was changed was in 2004 and it allows for renegotiation every five years. It’s 2013 now,” McGrail said. “The difference is population has grown.

“Cape Coral residents feel they pay the lion’s share and should have equal say on how it’s spent,” McGrail said. “The process puts us in a junior partner position, which keeps us as silent partners.”

Mann respectfully objected, saying you can never have a perfect agreement.

“You never approved or objected to a BOCC budget,” he pointed out. “And every morning, tens of thousands of cars from Cape Coral cross one of the three bridges and filter to the rest of the county,” Mann said. “I am committed to a better transfer of information for a system that will never be perfect.”

Council wants a 50/50 split of the surplus toll monies, which are currently divided 60/40 in Lee County’s favor.

Another issue was city and county emergency medical services, which some on council, including Mayor John Sullivan say are too redundant.

“We’re running an EMS truck and then an ambulance. We’re spending twice for the same service,” Sullivan said. “We need to look at efficiency.”

BOCC Chair Cecil Pendergrass said both sides should look at duplication of services.

As for the city running its own EMS, Police Chief Jay Murphy said the cost would be a lot more than the city thinks, judging from his experience with police.

“A sole entity would assume all dispatch, train all existing staff, hire additional call takers to direct someone to perform CPR, and update software,” Murphy said. “There are lots of back-end issues regarding dispatching.

City Manager John Szerlag agreed that running its own system could be a back-breaker for the city finances.

Among the other items on the agenda included animal control and plans on having the city take over the maintenance of Del Prado Boulevard again.

Commissioner Tammy Hall said the joint meetings are beneficial and address the issues, but blanket statements need to be thought about.

“When someone makes a statement they’re not getting their fair share, you have to remember the jails, the courts are funded by a budget the county collects from,” Hall said. “As far as the tolling agreement, the county holds 100 percent of the debt, so what’s fair?”

As far as the Ceitus boat lift issue, Hall said the issue is still in mediation and that it wouldn’t be appropriate to discuss the issue until that is done.

Mayor Sullivan said the boat lift is a dead issue but overall, the meeting was a step in the right direction.

“We’ve made it clear that barrier is off the table, period. We passed a resolution 32-12 that says we won’t discuss it. FDEP won’t permit it, end of discussion.” Sullivan said. “We’ve just scratched the surface. I think everyone knows what we’re trying to accomplish, and we’re setting the ground rules for the future.”