homepage logo

Fire assessment: Hot topic on Cape Council agenda

By Staff | Jul 25, 2013

After a Wednesday meeting filled with emotion, the Cape Coral City Council hopes it can have a little more civility when it holds it weekly regular meeting Monday at city hall.

But the controversial fire assessment will be the main subject, as it will determine new counsel in connection with the issuance of the city’s fire service assessment revenue note.

City Manager John Szerlag will look to retain Bryant Miller Olive as bond council as the firm is more in tune with the city’s proposed use of the “ready to serve” methodology of the fire assessment.

The proposed methodology uses two tiers; the first is a base fee for everyone who owns land, improved or not, with the second based on the value of the improved structure.

The firm would replace Nabors & Giblin, which has used the “call for service” method. City spokesperson Connie Barron said the firm continues to work on other bond matters.

“It’s a methodology Bryant Miller Olive is comfortable with. They have clients that put the methodology in place and others working to do the same,” Barron said. “You want someone familiar with the process and methodology.”

Council also will consider the initial resolution for the imposition of a fire assessment, what services will be provided, the cost and rate at which it will be assessed and the methodology.

Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz has been a vocal opponent of financial diversification in general, and he said he isn’t about to change his mind Monday with the issues on the table.

“I will oppose any action that continues to take from the taxpayers of this city,” Chulakes-Leetz said. “We don’t have a funding problem, we have a service model problem. Eighty-three percent of the fire department’s calls are EMS.”

Labor issues also will take center stage, as the city will determine four personnel actions regarding the approval of four collective bargaining agreements between the city and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades AFL/CIO.

The four unions, blue collar, white collar, supervisory and professional, overwhelmingly ratified the agreements on July 24.

“One of the tasks the council gave to the city manager was pension reform. He’s done that with the police and now he’s done it with the general employees,” Barron said. “The agreement will provide about $50 million in pension savings over 25 years.”

Chulakes-Leetz called the pension reform a mirage.

“The pension reform alleged to save $73 million over 25 years and $50 million for employees, all can be called back after Oct. 1 because the contracts are back open,” Chulakes-Leetz said. “Today’s dollars will have been disbursed in the form of bonuses.”

Also, a resolution will be discussed to provide for a one-time payment in two installments to city employees who are members of the general employees pension plan.

The goal of the payment is to provide equity among all employees so non-bargaining and bargaining employees are on a level playing field.

Employees will receive 2.4 percent within 30 days of the resolution’s adoption, with the rest paid on or about Oct. 10, just after the new fiscal year begins. This will make it revenue neutral, Barron said.

“Again the city employees are stepping up and saying we will give back,” Barron said. “In return, the city will provide some of that savings back to them.”

Chulakes-Leetz called it tantamount to giving money away in your left hand instead of your right.

“We continue to try and buy our way out of our debt. By giving bonuses when the city manager was instructed that there should be no salary increases, he manipulated the direction of the council,” Chulakes-Leetz said. “We can’t afford to give away $1.8 million when we’re asking the taxpayers to pay more. The government has to quit taking.”

Also, city business manager Michael Ilszyszyn will present a land planning review and analysis on all city-owned property, including the land the city bought last year.

Among the long-term needs for the city are right-of-way, lift stations, boat ramps, parks, public safety facilities, pump stations and above ground storage facilities, filter marshes, retention ponds and well sites.