Cape Coral City Council looks ahead to 2016
When Cape Coral City Council gets back to work in the new year, it will have to deal with countless issues, some well-known, some lurking in the weeds, and some that haven’t been born yet.
While there are the obvious, such as the possible municipalization of electricity and the utilities expansion project coming to North 2 this year, there are also numerous topics near and dear to the hearts of each council member that they feel are important to move the city forward.
They all agree that much of the work that will be done is positive, following years of doing without many things, thus creating one of the most exciting times in city history.
n LCEC and the possible municipalization of electricity
In 2016, the city has to decide whether to renew its utility agreement with LCEC that is set to expire at the end of September or to take over the utilities itself at a very heavy expense, especially initially.
Councilmember Rana Erbrick said that even if an agreement isn’t reached by the expiration date, it doesn’t mean that the lights will go off and LCEC won’t provide electricity.
“It will be a case where the City Council will do some soul searching about what is in the best interest of the city,” Erbrick said. “That’s looking three, five, 15 and 20 years down the road. Our job is to do what’s in the best interest of the city as a whole.”
That won’t be an easy choice, as the decision will have generational consequences on not only residents, but also LCEC. Approximately 45 percent of its customers/partners are in the Cape, an area with great density and therefore much easier to provide service for than Sanibel.
“We need to breathe, it will get worked out, but first we need to take the time and not make a hasty decision,” Erbrick said.
It is a battle that has already become testy and could become ugly as the year goes on, especially without an agreement.
“We have to find some common ground where we’re at least speaking to each other so we can get the information for council to know what to do,” Councilmember Jim Burch said. “We have to make our minds up because our residents are nervous.”
“We need to find ways where they’ll start working with us. They’re doing all they can to convince us we should buy them and I don’t like that,” Councilmember Rick Williams said. “People ask me what I think, I don’t think anything right now. When I get all the facts, I’ll tell you what I think.”
“During the campaign, it was the No. 1 question I got from voters. The last contract was 30 years ago and they want to know what we’ll do,” Councilmember Jessica Cosden said. “You would think LCEC would want to keep its members. They aren’t really acting like it.”
Councilmember John Carioscia said it’s out of the council’s hands until City Manager John Szerlag comes back after negotiations.
“If he reports back that he hit a wall and asks what’s next, then it’s on the table,” Carioscia said.
n UEP expansion, North 2
The Utility Expansion Project for water and sewer services has always been a contentious issue, as Southwest 6&7 proved a few years ago during different economic times. With better economic times today, the hope is that the hullabaloo over the related assessments subsides.
“We’ve been able to get the price down through funding from the state, which lowers our cost,” Erbrick said. “The folks don’t want to have it, but the city needs to move forward because it is a city and the environmental powers-that-be want to pull water from one aquifer as opposed to multiple aquifers.”
Carioscia said he’s not worried about the UEP, as it has been handled splendidly by project manager Paul Clinghan.
“He has the authority and the responsibility to get the job done. He showed us over the last three years he can do this,” Carioscia said.
n Bimini Basin & Seven Islands
For the city to become an entertainment destination, decisions have to be made regarding the land use at Bimini Basin and the Seven Islands, then hiring someone to put a plan together to get public/private partnerships together to make it happen.
“I can see Bimini Basin taking off in early 2016 as far as reaching out to other for-profits,” Councilmember Marilyn Stout said.
As far as Seven Islands, with the city owning it, the additional question arises regarding what to put there. Residents have said they are against putting a high rise there, while city council says it’s the way to get the most bang for its buck.
“With the city owning it, it should make it easier to do things rather than having it owned by someone else,” Stout said. “It should be an exciting time.”
The city will continue to pave the roads that badly need it, especially in the north. It will also work to beautify the medians. Stout said the city needs to look at the medians on established roads more.
“It’s like they’re not doing much south of Cape Coral Parkway. Me and John said we need to look at the south,” Stout said. “Of course, Rick Williams is concerned about road paving in his area.”
Williams said much of what will happen this year is a continuation of what was going on last year.
Carioscia said his pet project is the median on Cape Coral Parkway between Del Prado and Coronado, where there will be new wiring and landscaping. The goal is to have something similar to Fifth Avenue in Naples.
“A lighting scenario that tends to make people feel much safer because with the improved light. It will also be more attractive and decorative to inspire bigger and better businesses to come,” Carioscia said.
n Strategic plan/
Many on city council agree that the city needs more business to take the tax burden off the residents. Burch said he wants the city to come up with a more comprehensive look at how Cape Coral can move to a more diverse economy.
“I asked them for an economic overlay map, which will analyze not only where our commercial and residential property is, but what we have to find through swaps,” Burch said. “We have to determine our infrastructure weaknesses, if we want to put transmission lines in.”
Councilmember Richard Leon said the city hasn’t seen much in commercial development.
“Everything we do, from Seven Islands to Bimini Basin to water expansion is business driven. We can diversify the city from residential to business,” Leon said. “We need to streamline the government to help bring in business.”
n Financial prudence
Burch, Erbrick and many others have stated that just because revenues are up, doesn’t mean it’s time to spend freely. The city needs to remain financially responsible so it can be ready for the next economic downturn and continue to address the issues Cape Coral has, such as capital improvements.
Among the other issues that have sparked interest is, according to Burch, finding ways for pre-platted cities such as Cape Coral to generate more revenues to help overcome the challenges they face.
Leon said some of the more important issues include a park master plan, and the continuation of the 4 a.m. closing time for bars in the CRA district.
The Land Use Development Regulations, Leon said, are very important, as they will bring the city into the 21st Century and streamline the government.
“We want to make them friendlier and easier to understand. There are some archaic laws in there now that have us shaking our heads,” Leon said. “We’re talking about RV placement and whether someone can park their car on the grass. It’s great that we can update laws that have been on the books for 30 years.”
Williams said there are also going to be issues that come up that we haven’t heard about yet. It’s a matter of taking the issues as they come.
“It’s all take as it comes type of stuff. If something comes along, we deal with it. We don’t like to kick the can down the road,” Williams said.
Cosden said regulation on modular homes is a big issue. She said people have become concerned about them because they fear a drop in property values.
“They’re capable of being good looking, but one in particular is an eyesore,” Cosden said. “I bought a concrete block home that’s bigger than the modular home and cheaper. You’re not getting the same value.”
Cosden will also take part in the financial audit of the city’s charter schools.
Carioscia said most of what will be happening this year in city council will be positive.
“All the heavy lifting has been done over the finances, now it’s time to work,” Carioscia said. “It’s up to us on city council to figure out what we can do.”