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Council caps tax rate at current level

By Staff | Jul 30, 2019

The Cape Coral City Council set the not-to-exceed property tax rate for next year’s budget at the same rate, at 6.75 mills, on Monday.

However, barring unforeseen circumstances, the elected board said it is confident it can reduce that rate at least to what the city manager has recommended or even the rollback rate before the rate is set following the first public hearing on the budget in Septem-ber.

City council is still able to reduce the rate, but cannot raise it above the 6.75 mill cap, which equates to $6.75 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation.

City Manager John Szerlag has recommended the council reduce the millage two-tenths of a point, to 6.55. The rollback rate — the rate at which the city would receive the same amount of revenue from property tax — is 6.4903, something some on council would like to shoot for.

However, he recommended keeping the rate as is for now.

“The way the law is structured, you set the ceiling. Once you establish that, the rate can go down, but not up,” Szerlag said.

When asked why they set the rate at 6.75 when the budget is based on a 6.55 millage, members on the dais were very upfront on the reasons to keep the preliminary millage the same for now.

In 2017, City Council was poised to reduce the millage to 6.50 in early September, when Hurricane Irma hit Southwest Florida. The resulting damage cost the city millions and resulted in Council having to keep the millage at 6.75, where it remains currently as the city recouped its reserves.

“Thank God we left us that room, and I believe the city manager’s thinking is similar. We can go down but we can’t go up,” Mayor Joe Coviello said. “If there’s a catastrophe where we need to add a little, we have that flexibility. From a business sense, it makes a lot of sense.”

The other members of Council agreed and passed the resolution unanimously.

The resolution also set the two public hearing dates for the budget. Those dates are Sept. 5 and Sept. 19 at 5:05 p.m. at City Hall, 1015 Cultural Park Blvd.

Driveway plan approved for bank

In other business, Council modified a decision made by Public Works to allow for a right-in, right-out driveway for a proposed bank at 1119 Cape Coral Parkway.

Public Works and Community Development Department directors granted a deviation that would have allowed for a right-in only driveway that was only 124 feet from a signalized intersection near Vincennes.

Bill Corbitt, traffic director, argued for the city that a right-in, right-out and its proximity to the intersection would be too dangerous, resulting in the possibility of more right-angle crashes, and would slow down traffic on one of the busiest roads in the city.

The city recommended denial of the deviation.

Joe Mazurkiewicz of JBM Consulting, representing developer Brightwork Real Estate, argued that this is a public policy issue and not a safety one.

The site was a former gas station, with Chase Bank willing to pay for the environmental remediation of the property. However, the bank would have no interest in the property without the right-in, right-out capability, leaving the land empty and undesirable.

“The site has been underutilized for decades because of the cost associated with remediation. Chase is willing to do it and quickly,” Mazurkiewicz said.

He also argued that if the traffic division wants to make Cape Coral Parkway into a thruway, it would do so at the downtown’s peril.

“Your engineer is interested in promoting trips on Cape Coral Parkway. That’s his job. But we want South Cape to be a busy business district. When people go slow through a business district, they stop and shop,” Mazurkewicz said. “Your decision can kill the economic viability of South Cape. Don’t make that mistake.”

City Council members unanimously approved the request.

Councilmembers David Stokes said he was excited with the prospect of cleaning up a dirty site.