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Officials weigh valuations bump options

By Staff | Jun 30, 2016

With overall taxable property valuation in Cape Coral up by 8.37 percent over last year, the city estimates it will receive an additional $1,637,261 in property tax revenue for its Fiscal Year 2017 budget cycle that goes into effect on Oct. 1.

“Our increased property values are good news for everyone,” said City Manager John Szerlag. “For the city, enhanced property values will ensure continued economic sustainability for our growing community. For the individual property owner, the increased value provides a welcome return on their investment.”

Some on council say it also means it is time for the city to think of the taxpayers in the form of a millage rate rollback.

“I believe all of it should be returned to the taxpayers,” said City Councilmember Rana Erbrick. “We added the Fire Assessment and Public Service Tax and the city is back on track (financially), so it’s time to remember the taxpayers.”

Another council member thinks the amount is so small it would not be beneficial.

“Every 1 mill of the tax rate equals $11 million,” said Councilmember John Carioscia. “So if you do the math, $1.6 million is only about one-tenth of a mill. We’re talking very little money by comparison. We could return it, and we can, but that’s only like $20 per household.”

One mill is equal to $1 per $1,000 of taxable assessed value on a property.

Carioscia wants an open meeting to discuss what to do with the additional revenue and prioritize projects, like street lighting, sidewalks, jump ahead on road paving and other infrastructure.

“We can then go from there, make a decision on how to move forward,” he said. “I don’t have any specific ideas on what to do with the money, but my mind is open.”

Cape Coral voted to reduce its millage rate by .75 mills to 7.7070 for 2016, fulfilling a promise to do so after the Fire Service Assessment was implemented. The rate was reduced by .25 mills two years earlier when a Public Service Tax of 7 percent on electric bills was imposed.

“I think this is a good opportunity to reduce the mill rate, which is the best bet for the city of Cape Coral,” said Councilmember Richard Leon. “The Fire Assessment and Public Service Tax are implemented, and I think we should leave those alone.”

Responding to the suggestion that any actual reduction would be minimal, Leon added, “We don’t have any of the figures yet, but there is the rollback rate as well and that would make it more than one-tenth.”

Property tax values were released earlier this week by Lee County Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson. Cape Coral’s 8.37 percent increase is 1.73 percent higher than his first estimated values unveiled at the end of May. Cape Coral’s property values increased by 7.75 percent last year at this time.

“It’s a good, sound economy right now, but you never know what will happen between now and January,” said Wilkinson. “You don’t know what will happen on the micro stage like the other day in England, what that might do to it.”

The total taxable value on new construction in Cape Coral rose more than $189 million this year after increasing by $145 million last year. Countywide, new construction rose by over $1.4 billion after a $972.5 million surge in 2015.

“It shows that we are still in a recovering market,” said Erbrick. “We are still a good value. Basically, I think the city should continue with the same revenue it received last year and give it back to taxpayers.”

“It continues to show that Cape Coral is healthy and continues to expand,” said Leon. “Our economy is more stable now than it was before the crash.”

After council resumes its weekly meetings on July 18, Szerlag plans to bring his staff’s three-year budget proposal to council for two public hearings by July 15.

“The budget will continue providing a good level of service for our residents, businesses and visitors in the most cost-effective and efficient manner,” said Szerlag.

The millage rate will be discussed in those public hearings and certified to the property appraiser’s office by August before the county’s TRIM (Truth in Millage) notices are mailed to all property owners.

The TRIM notice gives residents some idea of what their tax bill will look like if no change is made to the mill rate as well as any taxing authority’s mill rate change request.

After that, the annual process is complete when tax bills are mailed out in November. Taxpayers then have five months to pay their bill with a discount.