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Cape to fund tax ‘education’ meetings

By Staff | Apr 23, 2013

The city of Cape Coral will spend $14,000 to educate residents on the need for a tax of up to 10 percent on electric bills.

Council voted 6-2 to have Burton & Associates conduct a series of town hall meetings on the proposed public services tax and the consequences of not funding needed services, the reason for the new levy.

The consultants will conduct 10 such meetings, with the hopes of getting at least 75 people at each, so they can inform residents about the “whats and whys” of the ordinance expected to be voted on Monday.

Many on the elected board liked the idea, though they did express concern of holding a meeting and having three people show up.

“It’s about understanding where we’re at and why, and offering solutions to the problem,” Councilmember Kevin McGrail said. “Call it the Burton & Company road show.”

“It’s best to go out in the public with the model and look at alternative financial resources,” City Manager John Szerlag said. “The what ifs can be addressed in real time.”

Business owner James St. Amand protested the consent item as did Mayor John Sullivan and Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz.

“We seem to be putting the cart before the vote. It’s like we haven’t spent a dime on capital,” St. Amandsaid. “I see 100 trucks going out to fix things every day. We’ve spent more in the last seven years than we did the previous 16.”

“Next week, we’ll be voting on the utility tax. The show will be half over by next Monday and the presentation won’t have any value,” Chulakes-Leetz said.

In other business, the city heard presentations from city staff on a myriad of zoning changes for areas in the northern part of the city.

Nine ordinances were presented for the first time on properties that had the land-use designation changes in 2010. The same areas now need the zoning changes to match up.

This, McGrail said, was because the city was concerned about Amendment 4, a referendum on the 2010 ballot that would have required land-use changes to be brought up for referendum vote.

“It would have frozen us in time, and we didn’t have enough commercial property at the time. We carved out areas in the north,” McGrail said. “They had the large, unencumbered parcels.”

Of the 26 land-use changes the city made, 22 were in the northern part of the city.

McGrail said he’s heard the feedback about why council is doing this when much of the area is still uninhabited, and he said it’s never too early to prepare.

“We tried to carve out those properties for future use for commercial enterprises that will be there 20 or 30 years in the future,” McGrail said. “Rather than let the neighborhood get established then put a gas station in, by reserving properties it allowed us to pre-plan for a change.”

Most of the properties will be rezoned marketplace residential and commercial activity center because all the lands require the Planned Development Process, so surrounding neighborhoods will know what’s going in there before the council votes.

The first public hearing date will take place May 6, with final vote scheduled for May 20.

Also, a special City council meeting has been planned for Wednesday, May 8, at 4:30 p.m. to discuss the methodology of payment and finance options for the utilities expansion project in Southwest 6 & 7.

On May 13, city council will hold a workshop ahead of its regular meeting at 2:30 p.m. on the Zucker report and its recommendations on city departments and finding efficiencies there.