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City looks to earmark FEMA reimbursement funds

By Staff | Feb 25, 2020

Cape Coral has received most of its reimbursement for costs incurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma,

On Monday, the question for Cape Coral City Council was where the city should — or shouldn’t — allocate the nearly $11.5 million it has received from FEMA for cleanup efforts following the 2017 storm.

Council, which first tackled the issue last October, once again agreed that putting more money into the city’s emergency fund would be most prudent course with funds also allocated toward sidewalks, median improvements and a new fleet facility.

There was one new proposal made at the workshop, or non-voting, session.

Police Chief David Newlan suggested the purchase of new mobile radios for the police department.

The radios and flashes need to be updated because of upgrades the county has made which will render the current radios obsolete unless some of the mobiles get updated.

Newlan said if the city buys the radios from Motorola by the end of the year, they would receive a 48 percent discount, especially on the mobiles.

The cost of the radios and flashes would be $1.4 million, with $900,000 for the new radios for the police and fire.

The radios for the fire department could be funded through the city-imposed Fire Service assessment, which has already been billed for this year, officials said.

Prior to the Irma cleanup, the city had $2 million in disaster reserves, as well as other reserves that brought the total to $4.5 million. The storm hit just before the end of the fiscal year, so money from 2018 was also used from the same reserves in the same amount. Additionally, another $9 million came from the city’s unrestricted reserves, according to Chris Phillips, acting finance director.

In 2020, the city has set aside $6 million in disaster reserves, with other reserves in place on top of that. City Manager John Szerlag said at some point, $20 million would be a good goal for the fund, so it makes sense to start budgeting for that.

Council agreed by consensus that a good chunk of the money should go to disaster relief.

Councilmember John Gunter said that $6 million from FEMA and $6 million in the 2021 budget would get them very close to that target.

Council also agreed that $1 million each should go toward medians and sidewalks and more toward the fleet facility.

The elected board also decided to not use the money to fund a seawall assistance program.

As for a proposed football field for the city’s municipal charter school system, Gunter said the schools want to take advantage of a grant offered by the NFL to help fund it. The NFL would match every dollar up to a certain amount to help fund it.

Councilmember Lois Welsh said she would also like to see the police get a dock and boat to handle traffic on the water near Tropicana Park. Michael Ilczyczyn, senior public works manager, said they are working on a grant to help fund that project.

“Matching funds at a higher ratio would strengthen the proposal for the grant. I would like to see the city and charter schools match $150,000 (for a grass field and bleachers) with the grant, for $450,000,” Gunter said. “Everyone has a stake in the game.”

Szerlag was looking for a sense of direction for which the city could adopt a budget amendment to send the money in particular areas. He said he would like to submit the amendment in April.

The city is expected to receive $17.5 million from FEMA when all is said and done. It expects another $4.5 million in the next 24 months from FEMA to conclude reimbursement. The city also is appealing a $1.2 million denial by FEMA.