One of the main topics for discussion at Monday’s City Council meeting was removed from the agenda and tagged for a future workshop meeting instead. The action was due to the absence of City Manager John Szerlag and others who abruptly went to Tallahassee to oppose a Florida State House bill shifting financial responsibility to the city when public utility equipment is relocated for any reason.
The topic in question was a resolution to raise the pay ranges by 10 percent for regular full-time non-bargaining employees and a pay increase for those employees for 2015. Some on council did not think it was appropriate to carry on the discussion in Szerlag’s absence. The date of the workshop session was not scheduled.
Council will meet in a non-voting workshop session Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. in the Nicholas Annex building. Topics for discussion are the utilities expansion project nearing completed in Southwest 6 and 7 and the next expansion area in North 1-2 as well as a presentation by LCEC on the electric service takeover proposal by the city. LCEC’s 30-year contract with the city expires later this year and the city has launched a study to determine if it is feasible to municipalize the utility at great cost to the taxpayers. The city’s other options include finding another provider or renewing the contract with LCEC.
Council unanimously approved a resolution encouraging lawmakers to reject House Bill 391 and Senate Bill 896 which would cost cities millions if passed.
“The Senate Committee meets Tuesday and the Florida League of Cities is watching,” said interim assistant city manager Mike Ilczyszyn. “We had three projects in the city in 2014 for road widening projects that would have cost the city $4.1 million to relocate utilities.”
Councilmember Jim Burch added, “This would put a tremendous burden on pre-platted cities over the years.”
Burch also asked council members to oppose another Senate bill seeking to reduce the number of Regional Planning Councils from 11 to nine by changing the current boundaries.
“This is another attack on local government,” said Burch. “It is equally as disturbing as the utility bill. The bill is written to eliminate Regional Planning Councils.”
Currently, the Southwest Regional Planning Council (SRPC) represents Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee, Collier, Hendry and Glades counties. The bill would either eliminate the council or expand its boundaries.
Burch, who represents council as liaison to the SRPC, presented statistics indicating Southwest Florida is the No. 1 travel destination in Florida and tourism is its top job provider. Tourism makes a $70 billion a year impact on our economy.
His motion to support a resolution opposing the bill to be sent to Gov. Rick Scott was unanimously approved, joining other municipalities in the region doing the same. Burch also asked that council add a legislative item to its weekly agenda during the state legislative session.
“These things happen quickly,” Burch said. “I think we need to suspend the rules of advance notice and add this to the weekly agenda on a temporary basis so we can respond to them in a timely matter.”
Mayor Marni Sawicki and a group representing area veterans came out in support of a proposal that the city initiate the process to become a Purple Heart City.
Council’s unanimous support directs staff to research the costs associated with the idea and report back to council for final approval.
Associated with the designation, Cape Coral officials would issue an appropriate proclamation each Memorial Day weekend and post Purple Heart City signs at entry points to the city. The idea is to honor Cape residents who are members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart would be honored for their service in any of the military branches.
Sawicki became familiar with the designation at a recent Mayors Conference.
“I love this project,” Sawicki said. “We have the best veterans groups right here in our city.”
The state of Florida already is designated as a Purple Heart State and Cape Coral would become the fifth in the state recognized as a Purple Heart City.
The next regular meeting of City Council in Monday, March 9.