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First budget hearing set for Thursday

By Staff | Aug 30, 2018

After three joint meetings between the Cape Coral City Council and the Budget Review Committee, the proposed 2019 city budget finally heads to the home stretch next week.

On Thursday, at 5:05 p.m. in Council Chambers, the first public hearing for the city budget will be held and the tentative not-to-exceed millage and budget will be set.

On Monday, assessments were passed regarding lot mowing, solid waste for residential and commercial, fire protection, construction fees and utility capital expansion fees.

City Manager John Szerlag presented the funding core of the proposed General Fund budget of $211.6 million: a property tax rate of 6.75 mills with a “rollback” rate of 6.4402; a 62 percent cost-of-operations fire service assessment (FSA) and a public service tax (PST) on electric bills of 7 percent, the current rate.

One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of taxable valuation. The “rollback rate” is the rate at which the same amount of revenue would be raised from property taxes.

Due to an 8.49 percent increase in overall taxable property valuation, the 6.75 mill rate will result in an estimated $4.3 million more in revenue.

Connie Barron, interim assistant city manager, said the original budget hasn’t changed except for the city council’s desire to hire two full-time grant writers.

“There won’t be a significant change from the workshops. He did make some adjustments for what city council wanted in regards to two full-time grant writers, one for the fire department and the other for the city manager’s office,” Barron said. “There were some minor tweaks where I don’t think you’ll see anything significant.”

Councilmember John Carioscia said he was pushing for a millage reduction, as the city had done for several years. While he won’t likely get it, he loves the idea of grant writers.

“But with increasing the Homestead next year and we had (Hurricane) Irma deplete our reserves; that makes it unlikely,” Carioscia said. “The grant writers pay for themselves. A few grants will pay for them initially, then the rest is a bonus.”

Carioscia said the writers speak a lot with other cities and governments and help other city staffers, such as Percedes Zambrano, who has been key in getting grant money for sidewalks.

“Percedes comes up with a lot of Public Works grants. She does a lot of homework to see what she can get,” Carioscia said. “A grant writer is a great investment.”

Szerlag’s budget continues to use what he calls the “three-legged stool” approach to revenue diversification. The ad valorem taxes are expected to raise $92.7 million, still the lion’s share of the budget. The FSA is expected to bring in $26.1 million and the PST will bring in $7.3 million.

Other highlights in 2019 include:

n A 3 percent wage increase for city employees

n $311,000 in support services for the city’s charter schools

n $312,000 for median improvements

n $520,000 for alley/spot paving

n $1.1 million for 22 full-time police officers needed for the state’s mandate for all school districts to place one schools resource officer in every school.

The council also expressed interest in adding additional code enforcement officers and starting a public-private partnership by adding a restaurant at Coral Oaks Golf Club.

Barron said those issues will not be addressed in this budget, but certainly this fiscal year by staff.

“There was an interest in adding code enforcement officers, but decided there would be no change in staffing,” Barron said. “The city manager did ask staff to look into partnerships to help with revenues at the golf course and Sun Splash. Staff will evaluate other options regarding management and operations.”

The city’s municipal charter school system was a particularly dicey topic as council said the system needs to become self-sustaining. An evaluation of the charter schools is ongoing, with a report scheduled for January.

Last year the city council had planned to reduce the millage rate, but Hurricane Irma and its aftermath scuttled that idea as the city had to use emergency and unassigned reserves of $17.6 million to pay the costs.

With the city still waiting for reimbursement from FEMA for damages incurred by the city, Szerlag said he wasn’t going to count on those monies coming in and isn’t going to budget it in until it is in his hands.

The second public hearing for the budget will be Thursday, Sept. 20, at 5:05 p.m. in Council Chambers, when the millage and budget will be approved.

City Hall is at 1015 Cultural Park Blvd,