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Council debates vehicle purchases, bar hours

By Staff | Dec 11, 2014

A request to borrow $4.5 million for public safety vehicles and equipment and a proposal to extend bar hours to 4 a.m. in the South Cape drew debate at a Cape Coral City Council workshop Wednesday.

Council was split when also discussing a marine improvement ordinance revision.

City Manager John Szerlag wants to borrow $4.5 million for the purchase of new vehicles and equipment before the long-debated fire assessment gets its presumed approval in the Florida Supreme Court.

Not everyone was certain that was a prudent course of action.

“It bothers me because we’re months away from having money at our doorsteps. We’re jumping the gun here,” Councilmember Rana Erbrick said. “It’s presumptuous to spend money on something and get into more debt after they bumped up our bond rating.”

Victoria Bateman, the city’s financial officer, said the city still needs to borrow and go to the market to buy new vehicles anyway.

“If you do it, do it once. I don’t want to have a little debt here, a little debt there. Interest rates will go up,” Bateman said.

Police Chief Bart Connelly and fleet manager Paul Koch implored council that too many cars and equipment are getting old.

“Many of our cars on the street have 120,000 or 130,000 miles on them. We’ll have to pay on one side or the other,” Koch said.

The plan involves refunding debt service and new money. The city can add new money needs of $4.5 million for capital needs. The financing of that money over seven years with refunding results in an all-inclusive true interest cost of 1.7 percent.

The annual savings of $290,000 reduces the cash flow effect of new money to $440,000 annually.

On the marine improvement ordinance, council was split between two options on how to deal with second boat canopies, with nobody changing their minds on how to deal with them.

Option 1, which wouldn’t allow for second canopies, was supported by John Carioscia and Lenny Nesta (albeit not as strongly) while Richard Leon, Erbrick and Mayor Marni Sawicki leaned toward Option 4, which would allow a second canopy under strict guidelines.

Councilmember Jim Burch was still undecided as he questioned “grandfathering” those who have two canopies.

Burch also had lots of questions regarding Leon’s plan to allow downtown bars to stay open until 4 a.m. on weekends, such as why it was being discussed at all.

“We’re not going to learn anything new going through all this dialogue again. It’s not about adding more special events, it’s about two more hours of drinking,” Burch said.

Leon gave a presentation to support extending hours, saying it would contribute to smart growth and make the city a weekend destination.

Leon added no such district would exist between St. Petersburg and Miami, and that the ordinance could be withdrawn if it doesn’t work out.

Carioscia said it would be that insurance that would allow him to vote for it.

“If the wheels come off and it doesn’t work, that’s it. We’re trying to sell this as a destination. It’s about demographics,” Carioscia said.

Nesta also liked the trial phase, but questioned the need for an off-duty officer at the open bars when most bars already have security.

Burch and Derrick Donnell rejected the ordinance, saying the Cape isn’t the right place for such a district and that the cancellation of an ordinance wouldn’t be that easy.

“Drinking exacerbates itself in the last two hours. It’s too late to take back if someone is killed by a drunk driver at 3 a.m.,” Burch said. “Bells and whistles aren’t going to change that. You sunset committees, not laws.”

Williams was on the fence, as was Sawicki, who said she wanted to hear from the public before deciding. She also chided Burch for his response.

“Bells and whistles matter to some. We are entitled to say what we want. I find that condescending,” Sawicki told Burch.