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City Council fine tuning budget proposal

By Staff | Aug 20, 2019

The Cape Coral City Council and the Budget Review Committee seem to be mostly in sync with what they want with the 2020 city budget

The two groups held their third and final joint meeting Tuesday, and even though there are some things needing to be ironed out, the budget picture got much clearer.

For one, it seems City Council will get its rollback rate of 6.4903 as opposed to the 6.55 City Manager John Szerlag proposed, as five of the seven council members sought the rollback.

The rollback will reduce revenues to the city around $884,000 in FY 2020, as opposed to the 6.55 rate, and homeowners with a $150,000 home will save $9.13, if homesteaded, from the 6.55, and will pay the same as last year.

They were split on the fire service assessment, with three seeking the same 64 percent from last year as opposed to the four looking to lower it to 62.

Some council members looked for some creative ways to save more money.

Jessica Cosden proposed the millage stay at 6.55, but have the FSA go to 62, which would be virtually a wash and allow the city to finance sidewalks, a pet project of hers.

Jennifer Nelson suggested funding employment at 98 percent instead of the 100 percent Szerlag has, since the city hasn’t ever been fully staffed and some positions the city seeks don’t get filled.

“There are peeks and valleys when times get tough. The premise is that Cape Coral will be here forever,” Szerlag said. “There will be a time when we have a dip. We can use those funds and we won’t have to lay off or freeze wages.”

There was also a consensus on how to prioritize spending on a variety of issues, namely sidewalks, streetlights, medians and code enforcement officers.

Council members showed an interest in public safety, seeking an extra $1.5 million to be spent on sidewalks and another $500,000 on street lighting, with $1 million in median improvements being pushed back on the priority chain.

There seemed to be a split on code enforcement. Councilmember John Carioscia, himself a former code enforcement officer in the city, wants to see three more officers hired.

Meanwhile, Cosden and Dave Stokes were seeking only one, with the option of hiring more if needed.

What would pay for all this, an expected increase in gas tax revenues, as a new formula created by the county would work to the city’s advantage, beginning Sept. 1.

Mayor Joe Coviello said it seems as though there is a direction.

“The council is looking at the rollback rate and a 5-2 vote is pretty solid. Unless something comes up during the budget meeting that is different from what we’re hearing, I can’t see anyone reconsidering,” said Coviello, who was looking to get more money for Good Wheels.

Coviello was quick to add that despite the rollback rate being the same as last year’s millage, because of all the new homes being built, an extra $3.4 million is being brought in.

City Council expects to talk a little more about the budget during Monday’s regular meeting, setting up the first public hearing on the budget Thursday, Sept. 5, at 5:05 p.m., when the council will set the not-to-exceed millage and the budget.

At the second hearing scheduled for Sept. 19, at 5:05 p.m., in Council Chambers at City Hall, the budget is expected to be formally ratified.