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Szerlag institutes hiring freeze for city

By Staff | Apr 28, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has the city of Cape Coral tightening its belt.

City Manager John Szerlag has instituted a hiring freeze and is scrutinizing operations for efficiencies, the Cape Coral City Council was told Monday in a financial update presented by the Finance Department.

Acting Finance Director Chris Phillips presented Council with a dashboard of revenues and expenditures.

With residents asked to shelter in place and many business temporarily closed due to statewide restrictions, projected gas tax revenues are one area of uncertainty.

The city also is around $8 million short of full collection of property tax revenues, which is fairly typical this time of year. But with so many people not working, the rest of that money might not be coming in on the schedule projected. Only the city’s fire service assessment revenues are seen to be in good shape.

Council also was told expenditures are in good shape regarding payroll, operating costs and capital outlay.

The city, meanwhile, has looked to control costs.

Szerlag has instituted the hiring freeze, but has held off on layoffs so far. In addition, many of the city’s contract workers are currently sitting home, Council was told.

Parks & Recreation has been hit the hardest among the departments as many events have been cancelled and Sun Splash hasn’t been open.

City staff also is looking into the future.

“This is like fixing an airplane while it’s in flight. This pandemic is something we have never faced before,” Szerlag said. “We are still economically sustainable and we have a three-year budget, but we need to prioritize projects.”

The city began to do that earlier this month. Council put off appropriating the funds for equipment and manpower for more sidewalks as well as for street lighting. The projects which would have cost $850,000 with the money to have come from gas tax revenues.

On Monday, Council voted unanimously to approve the design phase of the extension of the left-hand turn on Cape Coral Parkway onto Del Prado Boulevard but stopped short of funding the entire project, budgeted at $200,000 since it also was to be funded with gas tax revenues.

Everything is back on the table for a second look, officials said.

“I hope we don’t have to lay anyone off, but we have to look for efficiencies,” Mayor Joe Coviello said. “The last thing I want is a tax increase. I want to find where we can eliminate costs so we don’t have to raise revenue.”

The City Council will get monthly reports and make more decisions if the situation doesn’t improve.