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External audit, downtown walkway discussed at second budget meeting

By Staff | Aug 14, 2019

At their second joint meeting Tuesday, the Cape Coral City Council and the city’s Budget Review Committee found some ways to significantly reduce spending, making for a real possibility of reaching the property tax rollback rate.

City Council saw there was not a need at this time for a “skyway” bridge crossing Cape Coral Parkway, city staff found about $1.1 million from other city fund reserves that can go toward the General Fund, and the BRC recommended a third-party audit to help dramatically reduce costs in the long run.

Mayor Joe Coviello said they got a lot of information they can consider for the third and final joint meeting Tuesday.

“We’re hoping some of the questions we asked in this meeting, as well as the last one, will be answered. That information should be forthcoming,” Coviello said.

Parks and Recreation, the CRA, city government and Charter Schools presented their budgets to the joint panel, with a few questions.

The Community Redevelopment Agency budget included funding for a $5.5 million walkover “skyway” spanning Cape Coral Parkway.

However, City Council did not see the need for one, especially since nothing has been done with the Bimini Basin area, though one should be considered in the future.

“Why not just put a crosswalk with a light there, like they have in Matlacha?” asked Councilmember John Carioscia. “We can put a cut-through in the median and cost much less money.”

“I really don’t want to see a bridge to nowhere,” Councilmember John Gunter said.

Councilmember Rick Williams cautioned that the crosswalk in Matlacha is much different in that the speed limit is 30 mph, not 45 as it is downtown.

Coviello said the CRA can get much more accomplished without the bridge.

“We have other alternatives that would cost a lot less. If it’s a safety factor, there are other alternatives without a $5.5 million pedestrian crossing,” Coviello said. “Does it line up with what will happen at Bimini Basin or the southern part of the golf course? There’s more that we need to see.”

When the BRC gave its recommendations, members suggested going with the rollback rate of 6.4903 mills, and not the 6.55 millage City Manager John Szerlag suggested in his proposed budget.

It was also suggested the city continue to seek private-public partnerships with drags on the budget such as Sun Splash and Coral Oaks Golf Course (which could see a privatization of maintenance at a savings of up to $350,000.)

It was the recommendation of a third-party audit that drew the attention of City Council and the city auditor, Andrea Butola.

“What is the benefit of having an external audit? It seems pretty expensive. I never saw the need for one,” Councilmember Jennifer Nelson said.

The response was the potential savings of millions of dollars, but Council remembered the list of 254 recommendations made in the Zucker Report several years ago that seemed to do the same thing.

Butola said the city is already doing several audits, including one regarding overtime pay and its fleet maintenance, and noted future ones in procurement, utilities, facility management and fire safety.

“The cost of an outside audit would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and take years to implement. We have the staff to do this,” Butola said.

Coviello said one question that could come up next week is what to do about the Charter School subsidies, which are in flux with the PECO money the schools are seeking that are being held up in the courts.

“If that money drops, that solves our problem. They have $1.6 million from last year that’s in the court system and then another $1.5 million potentially this year,” Coviello said.

The final joint budget meeting will be Tuesday, Aug. 20, at 1 p.m., at City Hall in council chambers. The meetings are open to the public.