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Cape eyes November tax referendum

By Staff | May 25, 2018

Cape Coral residents may get an opportunity this fall to decide whether they would like to pay a little more in property taxes to fund parks and recreation projects.

And according to survey results received by the city, it seems residents are at least willing to consider paying more.

On June 4, the city will introduce an ordinance to put a referendum on the November ballot seeking voter approval to issue $60 million in general obligation bonds to fund a long-term plan to create new parks, trails and community centers and to maintain and expand old ones.

The Cape Coral City Council is scheduled to vote on whether to place the proposal on the ballot on June 18, in time for a July deadline.

An organization called The Trust for Public Land did a survey that concluded that 60 percent of residents favored the issuance of bonds for the project.

Some on City Council favor it as well.

“I’m all for it. I’m even more for it now that I know 60 percent of the taxpayers have responded positively,” Councilmember John Carioscia said. “We’re looking ahead 10 to 15 years and it’s the right thing to do. You have to have a vision or 10 years from now you’re going to look back and regret it.”

Connie Barron, city spokesperson, said the proposal has been in the works for nearly two years. In 2016, Barth Associates conducted a parks study for the city and determined that the Cape’s park system was woefully lacking and expected to get worse as the city builds out.

The city put together a stakeholder’s group to identify what specific needs and wants for this parks plan.

“That parks plan identified a variety of deficiencies the city has regarding parks and recreation facilities and opportunities,” Barron said. “It also identified the potential cost to implement the plan, estimated at $60 million.”

Barron said rather than put the original plan in a book to collect dust,Council will seek to address projected deficiencies in acreage and facilities and find a way to fund them. The bonds would be paid back with property tax funds including a special millage of 50 cents on every $1,000 of appraised value, if voters agree.

If the referendum passes, the $60 million would become available and the city would issue bonds.

“If you fund it as a pay-as-you-go, it would be many, many years. The bonds would allow the projects to be completed in a much smaller timeframe,” Barron said. “We have a timeframe of about 15 years.”

That plan did not include the cost of buying and developing the old golf course acreage, put at $25.5 million, nor the cost of the newly proposed Oasis Sports Park, estimated at up to $10 million.

The in-the-works purchase of the old golf course property would not be included in the referendum, as it was not considered when the original parks plan was written. Any amenities that would go there, however, would.

“For the golf course I’m for bringing in a park planner; 186 acres is too much for a couple of employees to figure it out,” Carioscia said, adding an amphitheater is something he would like. “I would like to bring in music, scale it down to about 1,000 or 1,500 people and limit the time to 9 p.m. It would also scale down the types of groups. We don’t want to bring in Nine Inch Nails.”

City Manager John Szerlag is going to reconvene the stakeholder’s group with the golf course in mind to determine if the golf course changes the priorities for certain amenities, such as an amphitheater or band shell, Barron said.

The group also will discuss last week’s proposal for a sports complex behind Oasis High School on land the city already owns. Prices for that project have gone anywhere from $6 million to $10 million.

Councilmember Marilyn Stout said she supports the referendum ordinance but is a little more neutral on what will happen if it passes, particularly as it pertains to Oasis.

“I said I thought we were putting the cart before the horse as far as approving all these things when the vote isn’t until November,” Stout said. “I want to see the specifics. I’m concerned about the money. This is a major issue we’re facing.”