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CRA board OKs proposed budget for FY 2018

By Staff | Jun 20, 2017

Cape Coral’s Community Re-development Agency Board of Commissioners Tuesday approved a proposed $4.5 million operating budget for Fiscal Year 2018, as well as additional median lighting along Cape Coral Parkway and a scaled back special event sponsorship grant recommendation list.

The operating budget for 2018 is 14 percent higher than the 2017 budget due to increased revenue expectations that will help the CRA to put almost $3.7 million toward capital improvements, specifically the Southeast 47th Terrace street-scape project. Another $1.5 million is projected to be set aside for the capital projects in the 2019 CRA budget.

“Once the city pays $2 million for the water, sewer and other utilities improvements beneath the street, I am confident the CRA is healthy enough that it can fund the project from its 2018-19 budgets,” said City Manager John Szerlag.

The city previously got the project approved thinking the city and CRA would split the costs after the utilities improvements were done. The ratio of the split was never pinned down as the city waited to see how the revenue and other financial ingredients were determined.

“I’d like to report that we are now at the 30 percent stage of the design phase,” said Szerlag. “It is proceeding well and will give constant updates as it moves along.”

City staff set a project open house meeting on July 25 for anyone interested in going over the plans. Time and place for the event will be announced at a later date.

Staff also informed commissioners that more improvements are coming soon for the Cape Coral Parkway median between Coronado Parkway and Del Prado Boulevard in the form of tree lighting and the removal of diseased trees to be replaced by new trees.

The latter aspect of the presentation drew disappointment from commissioners Marilyn Stout and Marni Sawicki, the more vocal among the board members.

“As from the beginning, I am opposed to removing those large trees,” said Stout. “Of concern to me, too, are the electrical boxes (in the median). They are ugly and stick out like a sore thumb.”

Staff asserted that four existing olive trees are damaged or diseased/dying and pose a safety concern for pedestrians and motorists. Six Washingtonia palms located at the east and west ends of the median between Vincennes Boulevard and Cape Coral Street also have to come down. They will be replaced by new palm and shade trees. Funding will come funds left over when the previous improvements were completed under budget.

The commissioners, however, prefer to know in advance what kind of trees are chosen to be planted and that they be taller (7-8 feet) than the short Christmas palms that were planted there during the recent round of improvements.

Sawicki showed digital photos of what some other cities have done to beautify ugly electrical boxes.

“We have artists in town that could paint them to look like butterflies and things,” Sawicki said. “They can do amazing things with art. There’s nothing exciting to me about lighting around tree trunks and this vote, but I’d like to see the boxes be painted with art.”

She also believed the proposed lighting of trees along the median falls short of being attractive, showing other digital photos of St. Petersburg and Naples where the trees are fully engulfed with lights.

“When this project started, we knew it would be done in stages,” said commissioner Richard Leon. “It will light up the branches eventually.”

Szerlag said he will report back with recommendations for replacement trees for the CRA meeting in August.

Commissioners were in agreement that cutting back on the grants it hands out to various organizations to sponsor special events in the CRA district each year. For 2018, 10 organizations applied for grants totaling $47,000. Those special events include the Festival of the Arts, Cardboard Boat Regatta, Boat-A-Long, Veterans Day, Bike Nights, Symphony at Sunset, Holiday Festival of Lights and Red White & Boom.

“I see the reason for giving an organization seed money to bring in a new event,” said Stout. “I just don’t see the need to fund the long-running events and those that make money off the event.”

The CRA Advisory Board pared down the requests to $25,500, reducing funding for Festival of Lights and Festival of the Arts. For example, the Chamber of Commerce of Cape Coral asked for $12,500 for the Festival of Lights, but will receive $3,000 while the Rotary Club’s request for $10,000 for the arts festival was cut in half.

“I am comfortable with the $25,500 recommended by the advisory board,” said commissioner Rana Erbrick. “I also want to thank them for having that tough discussion and making those cuts.”

The recommendations passed 4-2 with Leon and Sawicki both voting against the grants.

“I hope we can cut more next year and eventually make it go away at some point,” added commissioner Jessica Cosden.

The only other item up for discussion was approval of the purchase and design for a Dancing with Dolphins public art project aimed at celebrating arts and tourism for Cape Coral and the 50th anniversary of the Cape Coral Art League. When finished, that dolphin initially will stand at the Chester Street Resource Center.

The first two of the 72-inch-high dolphins have been placed with sponsors at Razzle Dazzle/John Michael Jewelry and at Kindness Animal Hospital. Two others are being painted and one will be installed by June 13 at Lobster Lady.

The CRA commissioners do not meet again until Aug. 15.