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Cape nips property tax rate

By Staff | Sep 5, 2013

As promised, the Cape Coral City Council nudged the property tax rate down just a tad Thursday

The elected board took little more than a half hour to set the millage rate and the budget for the 2014 fiscal year at the first budget hearing at city hall.

The council voted unanimously to set the millage rate at 7.7070, instituting the promised .25 point cut from the original, not-to-exceed 7.957 rate, but more than the rollback rate of 7.5139.

One mill is $1 for every $1,000 of taxable valuation. The rollback rate is the rate at which the same amount of revenue would be raised.

The city council also set the tentative budget in front of a sparse crowd in council chambers where only one person spoke against the increase in any taxes.

After Financial Manager Victoria Bateman and City Manager John Szerlag laid out the numbers, Councilmember Kevin McGrail made the motion to set the tentative millage rate at 7.7070, which was proposed in the Option B plan council previously approved. That option also include a 38 percent cost-of-operations fire service assessment along with the already passed 7 percent public service tax on electric bills, new taxes approved to raise $20 million for capital improvements.

Before the vote, District 4 Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz asked Bateman what the millage rate would be were it not for the fire assessment and the public service tax, to which Bateman answered 10.0199 mills.

Florida has a 10 mill cap.

One citizen spoke against the tax increase, saying that with everything happening, he won’t be able to live in the Cape much longer.

“Like many in Cape Coral, I lost my job, my house and was looking for a place to live that’s cheap. It appears everyone here complains they have to pay to live here,” resident Paul Howser said. “The cost of living goes up and nobody knows where Cape Coral is going.”

The millage rate was approved unanimously, however, Chulakes-Leetz voted against the operational budget of $128 million, saying taxpayers are not in a position to pay for “wants.”

“I voted for the first motion to assure the citizens of a millage decrease, but the proposed budget constitutes a tax increase,” Chulakes-Leetz said. “We have sufficient funds to run the city, but to increase taxes is to say we want these extras. They’re not needs.”

A second public hearing has been set for Sept. 19, when council must finalize the FY14 budget and millage rate.

For McGrail, the end of a nearly three month odyssey, with all the twists and turns, was finally about to end, with another set to happen next year to complete what this council.

“This budget has played out publicly since July. There’s been a lot of spin to try to interpret what’s happening. But we’ve laid out everything we said we would do,” McGrail said. “The future council will have another .75 mills we promised for a one mill decrease that has to be approved.”

There were plenty of good seats available, which Chulakes-Leetz said was a result of a frustrated citizenry.

“People have lost faith in the majority block of council, so they’re not attending,” Chulakes-Leetz said. “They’re counting on financially prudent people to speak on their behalf.”