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Items unsettled going into first budget hearing

By Staff | Sep 8, 2015

By the end of Thursday evening, the Cape Coral City Council must decide on a tentative millage rate and budget for the next fiscal year.

It also must decide on what to do with the $2.7 million in settlement money from LCEC, which, judging by recent meetings, will make the latter two seem like a walk in the park.

City Council and staff will meet Thursday at 5:05 p.m. in council chambers to get all that settled.

The date for the second public hearing is Monday, Sept. 21 at 5:05 p.m., following the regular city council meeting.

Council is divided on what that LCEC money should go to. Councilmember Derrick Donnell said it should go to paving, like he said it was originally agreed to. Fellow Councilmember Rana Erbrick wants some of it to go toward the Economic Development Office.

Then there are the Cape Coral Charter Schools, median mowing, discretionary spending and the CRA, and suddenly the issue becomes really muddled.

Staff took a poll of the council members to see what they might want to see done with the money, which could clear up things.

Connie Barron, city public information officer, said the settlement is an area of impetus for the council. However, it is only less than2 percent of the budget.

“It’s up to the City Council to determine where to direct those funds. There’s a lot that can happen between the 10th and the 21st, so we’re trying to get information we can incorporate into the budget,” Barron said. “One or two council members said there’s a lot more to this budget than the $2.7 million.”

“There’s not designated funding, so what do we do with it?” Councilmember Richard Leon said. “I’m looking at the sidewalks, the lighting, the medians the CRA, medians, charter schools and the EDO are things we need to ask. How much money does the EDO really need?”

The best thing about the public hearings is that it gives residents a chance to tell council what they want to see in the budget.

Donnell said he would keep an open mind and listen to what the people have to say.

“I have a particular area where I have concerns. I’m not dead set on where my position is,” Donnell said. “There are some things that are off the table, but I’m also open to other conversations.”

Donnell said the self-funding of the employees health insurance is something he wants to discuss, as he sees something downstream with that. He also said significant money has been set aside for medians that he would also like to discuss.

The tentative millage rate is expected to be set at 6.9570, which is .75 points less than last year. It is part of City Manager John Szerlag’s “three-legged” stool approach to financial diversification when the public service tax and fire service assessment were approved.

Barron said the waters tend to get a lot less murky once the first public hearing is over.

“We’ll know more after the first budget hearing what direction the city might want to take,” Barron said.