Election 2022: Candidate Question of the Week – Taxes, fees & assessments
Each week through the primary, The Breeze will ask the candidates for Cape Coral City Council an issue-related question. In the interest of fairness, each candidate is limited to the same amount of space, about 100 words, for their response. This week’s Question of the Week is The city budget for fiscal year 2022-23 is pending. What is your view on city taxes — the millage rate, fire services assessment and the public services tax?
The 2022 municipal election for Cape Coral City Council features four races — the seats for mayor and Districts 1, 4 and 6. While candidates must live in the district they seek to represent, Cape Coral City Council races are non-partisan, citywide races, meaning every registered Cape voter, no matter their party affiliation or city address, may cast a ballot in every race in both the primary and general election.
Races with more than two qualifying candidates are placed on the primary ballot, which this year will be held Aug. 23 with Seats 1 & 4 on the ballot. The two primary candidates receiving the most votes in each race will then be candidates in the City General Election which also will include the District 6 seat and the race for mayor. (If there are fewer than three qualifying candidates in any a given race, their names will not appear on the primary election ballot. They will appear on the City General Election ballot only.)
Here are this week’s responses:
Primary Elections races: Cape Coral City Council Districts 1 & 4
• Dr. Carol Rae Culliton
The City needs a certain amount of money to pay its bills. That money is mostly raised by property (Ad valorem) taxes. During the recession, the property values fell, and the City revenue fell. Since there is a limit on the amount property taxes can increase, the FSA and the PST taxes were created. The Fire Service Assessment went to cover operating expenses of the Fire Department. Any surplus went into the General Fund. The Public Service Tax was a tax on your electric bill.
As we ease out of the pandemic, property values have greatly increased, increasing the City’s revenue. Economists call our low unemployment rate “fully employed,” and there are still many jobs available at well over minimum wage. This is an excellent opportunity to revisit the ’20-21 millage rate (6.3750), FSA and PST rates and compare the City’s revenue with its expenses, and adjust accordingly. Any budget review should include a look the City’s operating costs to insure the City is receiving its materials and services at a fair price.
• Jean Pierre Etcheverry Jr
• Bill Steinke
Tough in 100 words! For most, tax is a dirty word and any Candidate that vows to lower taxes is favored. Truth is, taxes are and should be enforced exactions based on expenses that everyone shares. The Public Services Tax is locally imposed under Chapter 166, Florida Statutes. A rate of up to 10% is allowed and Cape Coral only imposes a rate of 7%. The Fire Services Assessment are dollars used toward providing all or a portion of the cost of making available and providing fire-rescue services. Tier 1 is lower and charged to vacant land owners and Tier 2 is higher and imposed on improved, occupied property which provides that all contribute some and those that require more service contribute more. After these and other “fixed calculation” taxes, we have the opportunity to adjust the millage rate applied to property values. With our higher property values, I am in favor of reducing the millage rate to an amount that will still cover our expenses to accomplish a balanced budget. To maintain a balanced budget AND reduce taxes we eliminate wasteful spending and increase the tax base that provides the income necessary.
For an interesting personal evaluation and comparison of taxation go to City site https://egov.capecoral.gov/propertycheckbook/
• Ally Wharton
This year is especially important to consider lowering the millage rate as all of our taxpayers are feeling the impact of inflation. Home values have skyrocketed and in tandem, so have our taxes. Homeowners should not be the only parties responsible for taxes, businesses need to pay their fair share for the services they benefit equally from. This would help drive down the rate and allow more people to enjoy homeownership. The fire assessment & public service tax are necessary but could and should be lowered through financial diversification.
• Joshua B. Clark
We need the infrastructure for a strong commercial base. The residents should not have to carry the burden of our budget. I would like to see the city go to the Roll Back Rate, we have had a lot of new growth and there should be a surplus to fund the budget. I think that the fire service assessment is an important part in keeping our public safety as a top priority and our city has a relatively low rate compared to other Florida cities of our size. The public service tax is also lower than other cities at 7%, knowing that others max it out at 10%. Overall the FSA and PSA ensure that everyone in the city is paying for our public services.
• Patty Cummings
My view is we as residents pay way too much in taxes.
We don’t have a big enough commercial base.
We have 210,000 residents with 8% commercial which means residents pay 92% in taxes.
That’s a serious issue.
In times of an inflation we need to be lowering our taxes and finding ways to cut expenses. We can’t expect the taxpayer to pay for the improvements of the city.
We need to build relationships with large organizations and nonprofits to help us build the things that we need and not to expect the taxpayer to cover expenses for projects that is needed in Cape Coral. The resources are out there.
Example: Indoor sports complex, aquatics swimming and training facility, these are things that can be built by forming relationships with organizations and nonprofits that won’t touch the taxpayer. The old way of thinking needs to be changed. We are a big city now, we can’t do it on the back of the citizens anymore.
• Jennifer I. Nelson, incumbent
In my time on council, I have never voted to increase the millage rate. This year, I have supported the rollback rate because with property values being so high, I think it’s important we give back to our residents.
The public service tax and fire assessment taxes were created in an attempt to sustain the city’s finances and have additional revenue sources coming into the city. The issue with the three taxes of ad valorem, PSA, and FSA is that they come from one source — the taxpayers. I continue to focus on ways the city can diversify its revenues from other sources such as commercial taxes and more public, private, partnerships.
General Election Ballot:
• John Gunter, incumbent
One of Council’s most important decision each year is to establish a variety of rates which will affect our revenues in developing our yearly budget. We need to find a balanced approach based on our property asset values and the city’s economic financial outlook.
I am supporting and have recommended that we reduce our millage rate from 6.25 to the rollback millage rate of 5.36. Even with this rate the city will receive an additional $6.8 million compared to last year’s revenue mainly due to the explosive growth in our city. Also, I have supported keeping the FSA Assessment at the current rate of 62% to meet the Public Safety needs within our Fire Department. Our Public Service Tax of 7% is one of the lowest rates within Florida and normally I would recommend keeping it at the same rate. Unfortunately, with the recent rise in our electric cost we may have to re-evaluate this tax to determine what rate would bring in the same proposed revenue but help our residents in their monthly electric expense. The balance in developing our yearly budget is evaluating our current needs while planning on the future needs of our city. I feel if we go to the rollback rate, we can still maintain our current level of service while still having additional monies to identify possible future needs of our growing city.
• Tom Shadrach
The City Council hurt working Cape Coral families last year when they voted to increase the millage rate 4% over the roll back rate. Simply, they raised property tax dollars by 13%. Most of the money just went into reserves with many of the added services still not completed. I support the millage roll back rate of 5.3694 this coming year. It still produces enough new tax revenue from growth to fund what is needed to operate the city and add needed projects. I approve of the fire assessment remaining at 62%. The Public Service Tax (PST) on electricity is at 7%. I do not agree with the Council’s decision to take away the tax exemption on the first 500 kWh and providing those funds to the charter school. This was the worst type of tax to add because it affected low income and fixed income residents the hardest. As a member of the Budget Review Committee I have been a strong advocate for fiscal responsibility, and will continue to do that.
• Wayne Hecht
In 2021 the current council approved a millage rate of 6.250 which was 4% higher than the rolled back rate and in fact was a tax increase to our homeowners. The council also recently eliminated the public service tax exemption which translated into another increase to our homeowners. These tax increases mostly hurt our low-income and fixed income homeowners. Our tax and spend council could have found other ways to save money instead of burdening our residents. As the candidate with real business experience working with large budgets I promise not to raise any taxes if elected.
• Keith Long, incumbent
The City budget is one of the most important matters we are tasked with as City Councilmembers. To me, the decision is important as it balances how the City funds essential municipal services and expansion, while conversely holding equal weight on the financial impact it has on our citizens–the taxpayers. In my opinion, the rollback millage rate sufficiently addresses both of these facets as the increase in new construction and general home valuations still provides the City with a nearly $7 million increase, while not unnecessarily raising the average citizens tax obligations.
The other two legs of the “three-legged stool,” the Fire Services Assessment and Public Services Tax, are now essential components of the City’s tax roll. They were incorporated as a sustainability and equity mechanism to broaden the revenue stream and reduce the reliance on property taxes alone. So long as they continue to be utilized in conformity with this original goal, I have no objection to their existence.
• Primary Election: Tuesday, Aug. 23
• Deadline to request that a Vote-by-Mail Ballot to be mailed: 5 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 13
• Early Voting for the Primary: Saturday, Aug. 13, to Saturday, Aug. 20, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., daily.
• General Election: Tuesday, Nov. 8
For more information on the 2022 races and candidates:
• The Breeze will post all of its elections stories here at Capecoralbreeze.com.
• The Cape Coral City Clerk’s Office posts all city-election related documents, including campaign reports at capecoral.gov/department/clerk/Candidatereports.php.
• The Lee County Supervisor of Elections has a wealth of elections-related information concerning registration, voting, dates and candidate lists and documents on its website, lee.vote.
• The League of Women Voters, Lee County offers election-related information on its website, my.lwv.org/florida/lee-county, and plans a Virtual Candidate Forums before the primary.