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Budget workshop hones in on charter schools subsidies

By Staff | Aug 8, 2018

The first joint budget workshop between the Cape Coral City Council and its Budget Review Committee was an exercise where both looked at numerous “what-if” scenarios through the eyes of a computer model.

But two things stood out at Tuesday’s workshop at City Hall.

The City Council has little desire to subsidize the Cape Coral Charter School System. A majority on the elected board also want to bring in more code enforcement officers to address the many violations residents say they see on a daily basis.

City Manager John Szerlag presented the funding core of the proposed General Fund budget of $211,642,492: a property tax rate of 6.75 mills with a “rollback” rate of 6.4402; a 62 percent cost-of-operations fire service assessment and a public service tax on electric bills of 7 percent, the current rate.

One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of taxable valuation. The “rollback rate” is the rate at which the same amount of revenue would be raised from property taxes.

Peter Napoli of Stantec, formerly Burton & Associates, brought the computer model and showed the council and the BRC real time results of any variable they could come up with over a 10-year period.

When it showed a proposal for the municipal charter school system getting $3 million in assistance by having the city to take over some of the services, there was disagreement.

“There needs to be another revenue source for the charter schools. I really don’t agree with bailing them out,” Councilmember Rick Williams said. “Without that $3 million we look pretty good. But we can’t anticipate what the economy will be.”

Szerlag said the city’s charter schools system isn’t a mom-and-pop operation anymore and is being challenged to change its business model to fulfill the city’s insistence it be self-sustaining.

“There’s this rural/urban continuum. We’re not a small town but we continue to be like one even though we’re grown. No ordinance has said the city will not fund public schools,” Szerlag said.

The city is expected to finish its best-practices tracking of the charter schools in January.

In the General Fund budget here are 28 new full-time employment positions proposed. Most are new school resource officers required by the state.

Some city council members want to see additional code enforcement officers added to the new positions list.

Department of Community Development Director Vince Cautero showed his proposed budget, which calls for only one new position for a code enforcement officer.

That’s not enough, some on the board said.

“We have had an increase of 75 percent in population, but code enforcement isn’t keeping up. They want more code enforcement on Chiquita and Skyline. The optics speak for themselves,” Councilmember John Carioscia said.

“Code enforcement always comes up at town meetings. There’s room for improvement because this is a quality-of-life issue,” Councilmember John Gunter said. “We need to be proactive and reevaluate.”

When Carioscia asked if there were other cuts to be made elsewhere to pay for more code officers (maybe through less paving), Szerlag said there should have been more communication from council on its wishes. He said he would look into it and bring back something in time for Thursday’s workshop regarding the impact of this decision.

Also questioned was funding for Public Works’ sidewalk program.

Councilmember Jessica Cosden, upon hearing the city funds its sidewalks entirely through grants, said she found that unusual.

“I want to see us start budgeting for sidewalks instead of using just grants. We’re a big city,” Cosden said.

“I’ll see that and I’ll raise you streetlights,” Councilmember David Stokes said. “We have kids walking to school in the dark. We have $100,000 budgeted for lights. Can’t we take some money out of paving and into lights?”

The second joint budget workshop will be Thursday at 1 p.m. in council chambers. A third “if needed” workshop will be held Aug. 23. Public hearings will be held Sept. 6 and Sept. 20 at 5:05 p.m. in council chambers.