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First Cape Coral budget hearing Thursday

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Sep 7, 2021

The Cape Coral City Council is on the home stretch in approving the city’s budget for Fiscal Year 2022.

On Thursday, the elected board will hold the first of two public hearings on the budget at 5:05 p.m. at City Hall.

At the meeting, the council will formally vote on the not-to-exceed property tax rate and tentative total budget, coming in just short of $1 billion.

At Friday’s fourth and final budget workshop, Council had reached a consensus that it would either hold the property tax rate at the current 6.375 mills or, perhaps, go slightly lower to 6.25 depending on whether cuts to accomplish that were acceptable.

City Manager Rob Hernandez is expected to look for, and bring back to council, a tentative budget at 6.25 mills with the understanding that it will retain the ability to fund the much-discussed additional six firefighters requested by Fire Chief Ryan Lamb.

He said he would explain the methodology used to revise the working budget to Council at Thursday’s meeting.

Council also will vote on the millage rate to make payments on the $60 million general obligation bond, borrowed to fund the city’s parks master plan. The rate for next year is at 0.1416 mills.

Cape Coral voters approved the measure in 2018 in a referendum.

One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of taxable property valuation. Because the city has seen an overall increase in property valuation of 10.88 percent, leaving the millage rate at the same level would result in the city receiving approximately $10.9 million more in property tax revenue and result in a bump in taxes on all properties whose value went up since the last valuation roll. At 6.25 mills, the city would get about $1 million less.

Since Cape Coral also saw a great deal of new construction, the city still would receive $4.2 million more in increased property tax revenue at the rollback rate of 5.9962, which was recommended by the Budget Review Committee, but with little Council support,

At Friday’s final joint budget workshop, Mayor John Gunter worked to convince the rest of Council to consider a midpoint rate between the current rate and the rollback rate, using impact fees and other assigned and unassigned funds to pay for some items such as more firefighters and a fire boat.

He also proposed cutting the Jaycee Park shoreline project $1.4 million and the replacement of the soccer field at Pelican Park, as well as $500,000 for sidewalks and the city’s travel and training budgets.

Adding more firefighters was something council could get behind, just not the midpoint rate.

Only Jennifer Nelson was on board with the mayor about going halfway, seemed more comfortable regarding the 6.25 rate.

Gloria Tate said that while she appreciated the work the mayor had done, she wanted to keep the millage at the existing level and didn’t want to micromanage Hernandez.

“Micromanaging is not my job and have seen that come and go and it’s not a pretty picture,” Tate said. “I keep hearing we’re going to move it (projects) to next year. I don’t know about next year because we don’t know what property values are going to do.”

Further, Tate worried that the city would stop doing what it’s been known for, bringing amenities to residents, particularly parks.

“We have spoken so much about parks and that’s what people talk about are parks,” Tate said. “I don’t know if I want to take those parts out. We’re saving a few dollars, but are we jeopardizing what we’re known for. We want to get back to the glory days, but we can’t do that if we cut pennies.”

Council members Tom Hayden and Dan Sheppard agreed with keeping the rates the same, while Robert Welsh and Jessica Cosden seemed stuck between the current rate and going down to 6.25.

New city council member Keith Long, attending his first full meeting, said he was in favor of the 6.25 rate, though he said he considered keeping it the same earlier on.

Gunter said he hoped Hernandez would keep in mind some of the cuts those on council seemed to accept, as well as the fire personnel, the police dock and the mooring field.

The city’s total budget, all funds, is nearly $1 billion. The budget previously submitted by City Manager Rob Hernandez proposes a $978,861,235 overall budget for fiscal year 2022, with $303,596,335 budgeted to the General Fund, which pays for city operations. It’s an almost $50 million increase over this current fiscal year.

The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

The second public hearing will be Thursday, Sept. 23 at 5:05 p.m. at City Hall, where the millage and budget will be approved.

The hearings are open to the public. City Hall is at 1015 Cultural Park Blvd.