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Cape Coral city budget heads into public hearings

By Staff | Aug 29, 2019

The Cape Coral City Council on Thursday gave City Manager John Szerlag the direction it wants to go in regarding the 2020 city budget.

The city council held a special meeting to see how the numbers jive with what they want, and though it will involve a little work, the city manager will be able to give them what they want.

The FY 2020 budget will use the rollback rate of 6.4903 and a fire service assessment of 62 percent of the cost of recovery, which will be $1.7 million less in revenue than the city manager proposed in his budget submittal to Council.

Among the important additions will be the hiring of three code enforcement officers (at a cost of $288,000) and an extra $100,000 in street lights and possibly another crew to install sidewalks, to be paid for with the 6-cent gas tax.

The numbers tend to even out when you consider the $3.5 million in added revenue from the new homes and businesses moving into the city.

“I feel good about the budget. We got the millage to the rollback rate and lowered the FSA, we’re going to do a lot of good in the city,” Mayor Joe Coviello said. “We got an extra $100,000 for street lights, so we went from 200 more lights to 400.”

Many on council still had some concerns, especially regarding Sun Splash Family Waterpark and Coral Oaks Golf Course for which the city has subsidized $6.2 million over the last five years.

“We need to look at those two and free up some money for the charter schools. We won’t benefit if we don’t take a big picture look,” Councilmember John Gunter said, suggesting they look into a P3, or public private partnership, at both places.

Szerlag said Ford’s Boathouse at the Cape Coral Yacht Club has raised the city around $500,000 annually. At the golf course, the city could save additional money by privatizing maintenance.

“Subsidizing is something the city doesn’t have an appetite of continuing. There has to be a better way to pay for those because that’s a lot of money we could put into public safety,” Coviello said.

There was also discussion on building up the emergency reserves, something the city didn’t do enough of when Hurricane Irma hit, but believes it can handle if Hurricane Dorian hits the area.

The $4.5 million the city had anticipated needing if the voters approved of a referendum to increase the homestead exemption another $25,000 (which failed) went into those reserves, and anticipate the money they get from FEMA for cleanup after Irma will further replenish the fund.

The possibility of Hurricane Dorian coming was not discussed. Szerlag said the city would take whatever measure it needs to address public safety, which is always job one.

“The health, safety and welfare of our residents takes precedence over everything and we’ll do what we have to do to keep people safe,” Szerlag said.

Szerlag said a growing city needs a growing budget and this year’s budget provides for that growth in a prudent way.

“This budget lowers the millage rate and keeps the city moving forward. It maintains a fund balance and keeps us economically sustainable,” Szerlag said.

The city council will hold its first public hearing on the budget on Thursday, Sept. 5, at 5:05 p.m. at City Hall, weather permitting. The second public hearing will be Thursday, Sept. 19, at 5:05 p.m., when the budget will be passed.