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Voters to decide council members’ pay hike

By Staff | Jun 16, 2015

A pay hike for council members and the mayor was the main topic of discussion for the Cape Coral City Council Monday.

During its final regular meeting at City Hall before the four-week summer hiatus, council voted on the pay increase and six other charter amendments that will go to the voters in referendum during the November elections.

As expected, it was the most talked about item on the agenda of the two-hour-long meeting. It was also the only referendum item to be passed without unanimous approval.

The ordinance, if the referendum is approved, would provide that council members receive an annual salary of $32,600 and the mayor $36,600, with a cost-of-living adjustment beginning in January 2017.

Currently, council is paid according to the amount of registered voters each year. The mayor gets 20 cents per voter, while council members get 17 cents.

Mayor Marni Sawicki and Councilmember Richard Leon supported the ordinance, but took issue that it wasn’t being continued on to the next election and that the pay rates were on the high side.

Leon said he supported cost-of-living adjustments, as well as the original numbers brought forward.

“The future councils need a change in pay structure. It’s disgusting what we pay our elected officials. It’s about the future of Cape Coral. Who will replace me?” Leon said. “I’m 28 and I can barely afford it, but I do it because I was raised here.”

“I took a huge pay cut, not because of the money but because I really wanted to do this. I knew what I was getting into,” Sawicki said. “We need to have this if we want to be more diverse.”

Other council members supported the measure, saying that they need full-time pay for full-time work.

“We’re here five days a week doing business. This is not a volunteer council,” Councilmember Lenny Nesta said. “Other councils in smaller cities get better pay.”

The other charter revision ordinances, which passed unanimously, include:

n Limiting the amount of severance pay upon at-will termination of employment of assistant city managers and department heads;

n Decreasing the affirmative vote of council needed to override a veto by the mayor of a line item in the city budget from two thirds to a majority.

n Replacing the city’s existing regulations and prohibitions for enacting emergency ordinances with the provision that the city may enact emergency ordinances in accordance with state law.

n Decreasing the number of signatures required for an initiative or referendum petition from 15 percent to 10 percent.

n Declaring classes of individuals that cannot be discriminated against with respect to any city position or appointive city administrative office.

n Decreasing the number of members of the Charter Review Commission from nine to seven, with two alternates.

Other agenda items

In other business, council approved a resolution authorizing Sawicki to execute a Local Agency Program (LAP) agreement with the Florida DOT for installation of sidewalks on Wildwood/Palm Tree Boulevard from Southeast 40th Street to Country Club Boulevard.

Also, council approved a resolution to authorize the issuance of water and sewer refunding revenue bonds in an amount not to exceed $100 million.

Tax-exempt and Treasury bond markets have been experiencing significant volatility for last several weeks due to rate hike uncertainty and European market concerns. The city has been seeking ways to maximize savings from refinancing Series 2006 Water and Sewer Bonds, according to city financial manager Victoria Bateman.

Because banks price off of Treasury market index instead of tax-exempt index, there may be opportunity to refinance portion of Series 2006 Bonds as bank loan at lower rate than bonds.

Bateman said the city could do an RFP to find a bank to provide the best rates, which could save the city as much as $17 million.

The next city council meeting will be Monday, July 20, at 4:30 p.m., in council chambers.