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Cape Coral City Council to set next year’s budget Monday

By Staff | Sep 28, 2017

The Cape Coral City Council will have a difficult decision to make on Monday at its regular meeting scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. at city hall.

Council members will have to decide whether to keep the not-to-increase millage rate at 6.75, a rate that was tentatively set during a special meeting this week when it became clear the city was going to need millions of dollars to clean up following Hurricane Irma.

The elected board also will consider lowering the Fire Service Assessment from 64 percent recovery to 59.

Before Irma, the rollback millage rate of 6.34 was gaining steam, receiving support from Councilmember Richard Leon and former council member Rana Erbrick and seeming to be on its way to being supported by a majority.

Now, the likelihood of lowering the millage to the rate at which the city would receive the same amount of revenue seems scant, although residents are still dealing with the costs of cleaning up or repairing their own homes.

“We have to pay for Irma damage, we can’t let the city not fix itself. It has to be taken care of. This allows us to cover it down the road when FEMA finally coughs up money,” Councilmember Rick Williams said. “I feel for the people who had damage to their homes and now have to pay more in taxes, but this is their city and they have to contribute to this.”

Councilmember Jim Burch said that although this would be the first budget in his current term where they haven’t reduced the millage, he’s OK with not going with the rollback rate now.

“We’re going to have to take emergency money, but that’s long in coming. Look at the debris still on the street,” Burch said. “We also have the additional $25,000 homestead exemption coming up and everyone agrees it will probably pass. We have to prepare for that.”

Cit Manager John Szerlag proposed a $208 million operating budget for the General Fund, with the tentative total budget set at $205,872,108.

Following Monday’s meeting, Mayor Marni Sawicki said there was still hope to lower the property tax rate to 6.50 mills, which was what Szerlag proposed in his original budget, possibly by not filling positions sought or taking it from unused sources, such as the road paving fund which used slightly more than half the allocated money from last year.

“That money may not have been used, but the paving still has to be done. It’s something we just roll into next year,” Williams said. “I applaud her for trying to find the money. I’m not sure I want to go there.”

Williams added that reducing the millage and keeping taxes low should be a priority for future city councils and mayors.

Burch said budgeting is like walking a tightrope, getting the right balance between dispersing too much or too little.

“We don’t want to encourage our staff to spend money unnecessarily because of fear that if they don’t use it, they’ll lose it,” Burch said. “We also don’t want reserves to build without plans for that money.”

The city Council will also decide whether to lower the fire assessment rate, a separate tax.

If approved, the assessment rates would be lowered from $134.57 in a previous resolution to $124.40 per parcel for Tier 1 and from $2.09 to $1.93 per EBU for Tier 2.

In other business the council will hold a public hearing on a planned gas station on Pine Island Road and fill the remaining vacancy on the city’s audit committee.

The budget hearing portion of the meeting will begin after 5 p.m.