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Cape Coral Council to hold first budget hearing Thursday

By Staff | Aug 31, 2017

With Monday being the observance of the Labor Day holiday, Cape Coral City Council does not meet again until Thursday, Sept. 7.

It’s the first mandatory public hearing in the process of setting the millage rate and adopting the Fiscal Year 2018 operating budget. The meeting starts at 5:05 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall.

At the meeting, Council will set the tentative millage rate and adopt the budget, tentatively. At the second public hearing on Monday, Sept. 25, council will finalize the millage rate and the budget. The public can comment and ask questions during both public hearings. The new fiscal year budget goes into effect on Oct. 1.

At its regular meeting on Monday, Sept. 11, Council will interview three applicants to temporarily represent District 5 replacing Rana Erbrick, whose resignation was required for her to run for mayor and takes effect Sept. 7. One of the three candidates – Scott Branan, Dan Puleio, or James Schneider – will be sworn in to sit on Council until the results of the General Election on Nov. 7 are finalized.

Highlights of the proposed budget include the fourth millage rate reduction in the last five years. City Manager John Szerlag has proposed a .25 reduction in the millage rate to 6.50, down from last year’s 6.75 rate. Some on Council are lobbying to use the rollback rate of 6.344, which is the rate at which the city will receive about the same ad valorem revenue as the previous year.

The Public Service Tax rate on electric bills will remain at 7 percent, generating $7.3 million. The Fire Service Assessment rate has been set at 64 percent recovery since its inception, but staff has talked about rolling it back to 59 percent in recent discussions.

“I think we agree on trying to get to the rollback rate one way or another,” said Councilmember Rick Williams. “There will be a debate about that, but I would like to see both the millage rate and the FSA rolled back.”

Erbrick is another favoring the rollback rate even though she no longer will be on the Council for that meeting.

“I hope others on council keep the FSA at the 64 percent rate and use the rollback rate,” Erbrick said. “At the rate the city is growing it has to keep its prime directive to build new fire stations and stay on track for the health, welfare and safety of the residents.”

At the 6.50 millage rate the proposed general fund revenue will increase by $10.2 million over the 2017 adopted budget revenue.

“It’s a public hearing, so I want to hear what other people say,” said Councilmember Jessica Cosden. “The FSA percentage affects everyone in the city, so more people will feel the cut even though the 59 percent rate is only about $2 million in savings.”

In the most recent budget discussions, Council discussed subsidizing the city Charter School System. The charter schools asked for about $311,000 for 2018 since it is not yet known if they will get money from the Lee County School District for capital improvements as required by recently passed state legislation. Lee County has joined a lawsuit against the state challenging the constitutionality of the new law.

Under the new law Lee County would be required to pay charter schools between $750,000 and $2 million, sources estimate.