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Cape Council holds final budget workshop

By Staff | Aug 23, 2018

The Cape Coral City Council had its final questions regarding the 2019 budget answered during the final joint workshop between the council and the Budget Review Committee on Thursday at City Hall.

Any additional tweaking is now in the hands of the City Council, which will hold two public hearings on the matter on Sept. 6 and 20 at 5:05 p.m. in Council chambers.

Among the items the council wanted to discuss Thursday were the hiring grant writers, additional code enforcement officers, the future of the city’s municipal charter school system and possible public/private partnerships between the city and Coral Oaks Golf Club.

The Council was all for hiring grant writers, which officials said would help pay for themselves.

Board members were also very happy with the proposal of shifting around positions within code enforcement to allow them to continue with the existing staffing levels.

About the only question remaining was whether the department could be more proactive by using more enforcement “sweeps” and to what degree.

Currently, the city tends toward calls for service and “reactive” code enforcement.

When it came to the Cape Coral Charter School System, things looked a little bleaker.

While the system has a waiting list for the elementary and middle schools of about 260 students, it may not be enough for them to be self-sustaining, even by ending voluntary pre-kindergarten and turning the two programs into classrooms.

“If we can fill up the high school that would eliminate the problem. But a deficit of $700,000 a year is unsustainable,” Budget Review Committee chair George Starner told Jacquelin Collins, superintendent of the charter schools.

“The long-term goal is to find another revenue source. This isn’t just a charter school problem, it’s everywhere. Even Lee County is seeing it,” Collins said.

The BRC recommendation of using the high school to house K-8 students was echoed by Councilmember Marilyn Stout, who said most of the charter schools in Lee County are K-8.

“There are very few high schools because they cost so much more to teach them,” Stout said. “It needs to be discussed.”

One potential revenue source could be the proposed Oasis Sports Complex, which would give the high school a place to play its games, Mayor Joe Coviello said.

Currently, athletes tend to go to other schools because of the lack of facilities, which has resulted in a shortfall of high school students.

City Council also zoned in on Coral Oaks Golf Course, which has been subsidized by the city for years without turning a profit.

The council agreed that a public-private partnership with someone using the Golf Club to open a restaurant could help make the course more self- sufficient, which is what the city is working on as it sees its water park, Sun Splash, moving closer to that mark after years of non-profitability.

“As a resident who doesn’t golf, I would have a problem with subsidizing a golf course,” Coviello said.”If it’s going to work, let’s do it.”

Coviello said he was happy with how things went at the workshop.

“I’m happy we got the grant writers. That can bring additional money to the city whether it be with the fire department or the city,” Coviello said. “The way they’re going to shuffle things, we’ll have two (additional) code enforcement officers.”

What made Coviello happy was the possible P-3 at Coral Oaks, which would include reassigning current workers there instead of laying them off.

“We may find someone to either run the restaurant or the maintenance of the course. We don’t want to lay off any of those employees. We’ll find positions within the city where they can work,” Coviello said. “We think that’s a win-win.”

City Manager John Szerlag presented the funding core of the proposed General Fund budget of $211,642,492: a property tax rate of 6.75 mills with a “rollback” rate of 6.4402; a 62 percent cost-of-operations fire service assessment and a public service tax on electric bills of 7 percent, the current rate.

The Budget Review Committee recommended all three components of Szerlag’s “three-legged stool,” or diversified revenue stream” at the rates requested.