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Council sets not-to-exceed levels for millage rate

By Staff | Jul 26, 2016

City Council addressed its 2017 budget cycle at Monday night’s meeting by setting some financial parameters, including the property tax millage rate.

At this point in the process, the rates for the millage, vacant lot mowing, solid waste removal, stormwater usage, Public Service Tax and Fire Service Assessment were established at not-to-exceed levels from where budget discussions can negotiate some or all of those rates down.

While there was discussion by some council members to lower the millage rate now instead of at the staff recommended rate of 6.957, which is the current 2016 rate, most agreed that it is simply a starting point. Members voted 7-1 to go with the current rate with Councilmember Richard Leon casting the lone dissenting vote.

“We need to set the conversation now on what we want to see,” said Leon. “I’m going to be pushing for the rollback rate (6.5702 mils) and I’m OK with leaving the Public Service Tax and Fire Service Assessment alone.”

Szerlag has proposed a .207 millage rate reduction to 6.750 on which he based his budget figures to bring to council for discussion over the next two months. At this rate, the city would receive almost a $4 million revenue boost over 2016, or $78,051,494 for 2017. Even at the rollback rate set by the county the city would receive an additional $1.6 million because of new construction.

“I am OK with this rate tonight, but I want to tell you I am looking at the rollback rate,” said Councilmember Rana Erbrick. “It’s time our property owners get some relief.”

Councilmember Rick Williams offered another option.

“I want to do something for all our residents by lowering the Public Service Tax,” Williams said. “Large homes get the benefit from a millage rate reduction, but the Public Service Tax affects all residents and businesses.”

The Public Service Tax was left at 7 percent for now and the Fire Service Assessment rate of recovery at 64 percent, which will generate $21.8 million in revenue, or $2.2 million more than in 2016.

Homeowners can anticipate an increase in their trash, vacant lot mowing and stormwater fees for the coming year.

Waste Pro, the city’s solid waste removal contractor, asked for a 1 percent increase in its fee. With Lee County tacking on a tipping fee and the city wanting a half-time employee to address trash complaints, residents will pay about $18 more in the coming year.

Vacant lot mowing rates recommended Monday night will raise the annual rate by $4.50 if adopted. The city’s mowing contractors will take over trimming around the city’s more than 2,700 burrowing owl nests on vacant lots.

The city is concerned about liability for volunteers from Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife going on private property to trim and maintain nests.

Council members approved a stormwater usage rate of $87 for 2017, an increase of $7 over the 2016 rate paid by property owners.

Staff also recommended a “blended” rate of $111 that would remain stable over the next five years instead of incremental increases. The “blended” rate would allow the stormwater level of service, maintenance and capital improvements to continue without reaching a negative fund balance.

Council thought the $31 increase was too much to ask of residents at this time and passed the $87 rate.

All of the above rates could be adjusted by council during budget discussions and final adoption in September.

Council’s next meeting is at 4:30 p.m. on Monday at City Hall.