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Cape Council talks taxes

By Staff | Jul 28, 2020

Cape Coral City Council made significant changes to the city’s mowing program Monday, changing the number of mows on each empty lot and so raising the annual assessment.

Gary Eidson, speaking as a resident and not as a member of the Budget Review Committee upon which he serves, said the rules for those with empty lots are far less stringent than those applicable to homes.

“City grass has to be cut every three weeks at least. The same level of expectations should go to lot owners and homeowners,” Eidson said.

This has been an argument that has been brought up over the years.

Councilmember John Gunter agreed with the argument.

“We need to set the level of expectation to where it needs to be. Most lots are cut every seven weeks. This does not favor the residents who maintain their lawn and then pay for someone who doesn’t,” Gunter said.

Others on Council took similar views but it took two tries to get the resolution in proper form. The elected board had to take back the first resolution they passed due to a math error, then approved it again with the correct computations.

For districts 1 through 4, the assessments will be $92.30, $67.42, $68.48, and $65.32, respectively, for 10 mows done from January to October.

The fees currently provide for seven mows Jan.1 – Dec. 31 each year although during the dry season, January-March, no mows are performed. According to the city’s web site, mows are conducted every 5-6 weeks except where there are active eagle’s nests. A lot is deemed to be 5,000 square feet, meaning most standard building lots are double assessed. The current assessments for districts 1, 2, 3, and 4 are $73.40, $56.98, $57.62 and $55.48, respectively

The city council also held the not-to-exceed preliminary millage at 6.4903 for fiscal year 2021, the current rate. Council also held the Fire Service Assessment at 62 percent rate of recovery for operation costs and the Public Service Tax on electric bills at 7 percent.

Preliminary rates approved may be lowered, but not raised, as the budget process continues.

Councilmember Rick Williams, who recalled council capping the property tax millage at the rollback rate last year, cautioning against that this time around.

“We’re trying to find money for COVID. Let’s not bite our nose off to spite our faces,” Williams said.

Also discussed at length was the city’s stormwater assessment, where there was debate whether to raise it to $125 per equal residential unit, which would be in line with the increases the city’s consultants has planned, or to leave it at $119, this year’s rate, and increasing it back to the consultant’s recommended rate in 2022, of $130, a $5 incremental increase per year.

Councilmember Marilyn Stout said she would prefer the $6 increase this year than a potential $11 increase next year.

The council decided to go with the incremental increase of $125 for 2021, while leaving open the possibility of lowering it later on, as the council will have another chance to lower the rate during its Sept. 3 meeting.

In other business, the city council agreed to a continuance regarding changing the conditions of approval and deadlines for the Downtown Village Square project, but only until its next meeting on Aug. 10.

The owners of the property, who are in New York, said with the pandemic numbers high in Florida, they didn’t feel safe traveling. There was a previous continuance made in March on the project for the same reason, only that was when New York was a hot spot.

The continuances did draw some discussion. The project has had a history of this since it was originally proposed a decade ago.

“I’m very disappointed that we don’t have any representation here regarding this ordinance,” Councilmember Lois Welsh said. “This has been an eyesore downtown for more than a decade.”

“This has been kicked down the road for 10 years and this is just another kick. I know I will vote against a PDP extension,” said Gunter, who added he was ready to vote on it.

In the end, considering the issues with the state of emergency declared because of COVID-19, council agreed to give the owners until Aug. 10, with a hearing to be held remotely, if need be.