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Cape Council approves economic incentives plan

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Dec 16, 2021

Cape Coral City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that will provide business development and job creation incentives and create several other economic programs that they hope will bring new companies and so increase the city’s commercial tax base.

Council set the stage Wednesday for the CapeCompetes program which will identify five funding categories, Local Job Creation Incentive/ Florida Qualified Targeted Industries Local Match, CreativeCape Arts Incentive Program, CapeCollaborates Small Business Partnership Program, Business Infrastructure Grant Program, and the Enhanced Property Value Recapture Grant.

City Manager Rob Hernandez had given the council an in-depth look at the proposal at a workshop meeting the week before and just wanted to clarify some language, after which the Council voted to green light the plan.

There was slightly more debate over the to-be-created Cape Competes Advisory Board. Councilmember Gloria Tate asked that the seven-member board include Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Donna Germain or a designee.

“I think this is going to be an important and productive board and I want to make sure the Chamber is on it,” Tate said.

City Attorney Dolores Menendez said the ordinance as crafted, did not allow for that, adding that an executive director does not always fall into a specific category. She said they would either have to add the seventh member or remove one of the six designated members of the board, possibly one of the two owner slots.

Council agreed that having the chamber involved is important, but so is having business owners on the board. They approved adjusting the ordinance accordingly.

The ordinance now allows the city to use a variety of incentives such as tax breaks, building supporting infrastructure and workforce development.

The goal is to motivate private individuals and entities to develop economic opportunities, stimulate investment, job creation and create of higher-wage jobs, ensure the city and its businesses remain competitive, improve the overall business climate within the city, and diversify the tax base.

The measure will replace one that was created in 2016 that created an Economic Development Incentive Fund where the focus was on small awards to spur business growth, with funding limited to $200,000 annually. The new program was earmarked in the 2022 budget at $2,534,600 as a special revenue fund.

The goals are to stimulate private investment; expand and diversify the tax base; increase commercial activity; attract new businesses, residents and visitors; enhance property values; increase employment opportunities; generate higher incomes for city residents through higher wage jobs; encourage the creation of new businesses and retention and expansion of existing ones; and foster redevelopment within the Community Redevelopment Area.

In other business:

n Council unanimously approved an amended lease agreement between the city and its municipal charter school system.

The rent charged to the system will be decreased from $3.2 million to $1.5 million per year, with payments to be made monthly. The city will be responsible for handling the financial-related administrative functions of the charter school system while the schools will continue to handle the academic side.

n Council got a water update from city staff. Interim Public Works Director Michael Ilczyszyn and the city are still waiting on the results of the bubble curtain regulatory permits. Rather than wait to receive them, the city will start the upland work and hold off on the work in the water.

There will be 14 homes impacted by this decision, all in District 1. Councilmember Gloria Tate said she wanted the city to communicate to those residents what will happen and to know what to tell those residents when they call her.

Councilmember Tom Hayden said he was having a hard time believing the permits will ever come as the biological opinion on the bubble curtains impact on the smalltooth sawfish continues to weave its way through the system.

“How hard is it to track down seven or eight signatures? They have the opinion. What’s the issue?” Hayden asked. “We need to talk about next year’s rainy season. I thought we were going to have them for this rainy season and we didn’t. My concern is if we’ll have them by June or July.”

The bubble curtains are intended to help mitigate algae intrusion from the river into city canals that could be affected.