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Cape Council sets budget, millage

By Staff | Oct 3, 2017

The Cape Coral City Council approved the budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year and the property tax to fund its operations portion Monday,wrangling a bit as the final numbers were crunched.

The elected board voted to keep the millage rate the same at 6.75 mills, but decided to lower the Fire Service Assessment from 64 percent to 59 percent of the operational “recovery rate,” with votes of 6-2 and 5-3, respectively.

The result was an additional $3.1 million in city coffers, which will go toward the fixes needed following Hurricane Irma and the disaster relief fund, which city leaders said was at $0.

Unlike previous years, where everything was pretty much settled on before the final vote, this time issues were hotly debated, as council members had different points of view in regards to where to go with the millage, fire assessment rate and the final budget line.

Councilmember Richard Leon, who supported lower rates pre-Irma, said the city has an obligation to be ready in the event another catastrophe happens. He voted for the millage and against the lowering of the fire assessment for that reason.

“There isn’t enough money in disaster relief. What happens next year?” Leon said. “I don’t want to tie the hands of the next council.”

Mayor Marni Sawicki was quick to point out that Leon was among those who favored lowering the millage to the rollback rate (6.3434) when the budget debate got started before Irma. It was a debate that was gaining steam before the hurricane.

Councilmember Dan Puleio, newly appointed to Council to fill a vacancy until the November election, concurred, saying “We got whacked this year and we can get whacked next year.”

Councilmember Marilyn Stout thought they could shave the millage down to 6.60, but keep the fire assessment at 64 percent of the cost it takes to operate the department.

“Lowering the millage will make us look good. I want to allow the FSA to remain at 64 percent. Why redo it for one year and go back the next? I want consistency,” said Stout, who voted against the millage and the lowering of the FSA.

Stout and Councilmemebr Rick Williams voted against the 6.75 millage rate, while Stout, Councilmember John Carioscia and Leon voted against lowering the FSA. The budget, which features a general fund of $210.8 million, was passed unanimously.

A mill is equal to $1 per $1,000 of taxable assessed property valuation. The “rollback” rate is the millage that would bring in the same amount of revenue as the previous year. Because the overall property valuation in the Cape has increased again this year over last, a lower millage rate would bring in the same amount of property tax.

In other business, in a last-minute resolution brought to council, City Manager John Szerlag proposed the Building Department waive permit fees for people making repairs to their home or business following Irma until the end of the year (Friday, Dec. 29).

Szerlag said he hoped the amount waived would not exceed $250,000, but added he was not proposing a cap. The measure passed 7-1, with Carioscia casting the dissenting vote.