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Council debates various tax rates

By Staff | Aug 22, 2017

Monday’s land use amendment deadlock regarding the golf course property almost impacted how much Cape Coral property owners could pay in taxes next year.

But a bid to set the various revenue components at rates that could earmark money for a possible purchase of the land didn’t garner a consensus at the joint workshop between the Budget Review Committee and the Cape Coral City Council on Tuesday.

Council is now leaning toward a middle option that would roll back the millage rate but keep the fire assessment at its current recovery level.

In the end, it came down to a 4-3 vote on how to proceed during the special joint workshop.

City Manager John Szerlag presented three options.

The first option would have set the millage at 6.75 and the fire service assessment at 64 percent of departmental operational costs, while keeping the public service tax on electric bills at 7 percent.

Councilmember Richard Leon said he had been ready to support that option until Monday night when Council deadlocked 4-4 on a vote to transmit a land use amendment that would have changed the future land use of the privaelty owned 175- property off Palm Tree Boulevard from parks to single family residential

The tie effectively killed the proposal.

That left the other two options: a 6.50 millage with a 59 percent fire services assessment, which offered a savings of more than $5 million from Option 1; and Option 3, with a rollback rate of 6.344 and a 64 percent assessment. Both options paid roughly the same, with Option 3 adding another $150,000 in spending, while also keeping the PST at 7 percent.

Council members Rana Erbrick, Leon, Marilyn Stout and Jessica Cosden voted for Option 3, while Council members Rick Williams, John Carioscia and Jim Burch voted in favor of Option 2. With Mayor Marni Sawicki absent, there was no clear consensus.

Leon’s original support for Option 1, which would have involved taking money from road paving and the Community Redevelopment Agency, and the additional revenue raised by the methodology to make buying the golf course property happen, did not make Carioscia happy.

“Why are we discussing these things on an open dais when the owners could be watching? If it’s that important, we can hold a shade meeting,” Carioscia said. “The numbers are predicated on what we need. We should always try to save money for our residents,”

In the end Carioscia said the third option was a no brainer.

“If we can save $150,000 for our residents, what councilman would argue against that?” Carioscia said. “Leon said he wanted the money in case we needed it and if we didn’t we’d put it somewhere else. That’s not how you run a city.”

The city council has until Sept. 7 to figure out what it wants, when the first public hearing for the budget will happen.

Carioscia, as well as Stout, were also displeased earlier in the meeting, when Szerlag suggested the city give its Charter School Authority $311,000 so it can do what it needs to at the city-owned schools.

“The charter schools have $4 million in reserves, now you’re saying we should pay them $300,000. This picture is flawed,” Stout said.

Szerlag explained that the state statute that would make the Lee County School System pay the charter schools $1.8 million won’t be paid until February, which he said would make things much easier, but is not a guarantee.

“There is a void and we hope it comes in. But we don’t budget on what ifs,” Szerlag said. “We want a high level of service for these schools, and that requires money.”

In other budget debate, Council agreed on the need for a full-time person for Special Pops instead of the two contract workers they have now; to see what kind of revenues and expenditures the city can get through concerts at Festival Park; and to give its newly formed Youth Council $5,000 in its budget, with checks and balances by the city council.