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First budget public hearing Thursday

By Staff | Sep 3, 2019

The Cape Coral City Council has entered the home stretch on ratifying a city budget for the 2020 fiscal year.

This Thursday at 5:05 p.m., the council will hold the first of two public hearings on the budget at City Hall, where it will set the tentative not-to-exceed millage rates and adopt the tentative city budget.

And with Hurricane Dorian seemingly no longer a threat to Southwest Florida, the council appears ready to make a substantial reduction in the millage.

On July 29, City Council established the first not-to-exceed rate at 6.75 mills, the same as it has been since 2016. However, City Mana-ger John Szerlag’s budget recommended a reduction in the millage to 6.55.

When council discovered it had some excess reserve funds it could draw from and considering property rolls had increased and more people were moving into the city, it suggested the millage be brought down to the rollback rate of 6.4903, which the budget is based upon.

“I think we made a lot of great decisions that benefit our residents. Because the economy is strong and the city is in a good position financially, we were able to give residents a break by going to the rollback rate,” Councilmember Jennifer Nelson said. “Anytime we can give a break to residents, we should.”

As the city has only received a small fraction of the $10 million it is expected to receive from FEMA for cleanup following Hurricane Irma in 2017, it is not included in the budget. Once received, the city will decide what to do with those funds through a budget amendment.

The city also has to determine what the gas tax revenues will be so it can possibly add another sidewalk crew and increase the annual fund to build sidewalks.

Councilmember John Gunter said he likes the budget and expects the city to go to the rollback rate.

“Even with the rollback we’ll have a $3.5 million increase be-cause of growth. We kept the Fire Service Assessment and the public service tax the same,” Gunter said. “I’d like to look at the PST in the future to see if we can reduce that.”

The city manager’s proposed budget was $897.5 million, with more than $2.3 million in pending changes, with $233,272,931 set aside for the general fund. Council was able to cut nearly $4 million from the budget by tapping into operating reserves such as payroll, that were transferred out to help fund capital projects.

This will leave the city with nearly three months in reserves, which is what lending institutions like to see when considering lending money to cities.

The city has already set the Fire Service Assessment at 62 percent and the Public Service Tax at 7 percent, as it has been.

City Council will also vote to set the millage rate for the Parks General Obligation Bond at 0.06, which is pro-rated for a portion of the 2020 year.

“This is a growing city, so you need a growing budget, it’s simple. It reduces the millage rate and still moves the city forward,” Szerlag said. “It allows us to remain economically sustainable now and for a long time to come.”

The second public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 19, at 5:05 p.m. at City Hall, when the millage and budget are officially ratified.