Election 2022: Candidate Question of the Week – City budget, any cuts or additions?
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:
What, if anything, should be cut from or added to the city of Cape Coral’s proposed budget?
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:
• Dr. Carol Rae Culliton
The city budget is an all encompassing document providing for services, programs and projects. It recognizes the role of the city to provide a safe environment for its residents while providing services such as public safety, clean water, trash removal as well as activities and entertainment that a city this size deserves. All while preparing for emergencies that we hope never happen.
Rather than looking for items or programs to add or delete, oversight committees should review each proposal for cost trimming and management, thereby eliminating the need for third party consultants and unnecessary spending. Proper planning and oversight can allow projects and programs to be implemented on time and within budget. A lot of thought went into preparing the budget. Planning and oversight can make it work for everyone.
• Jean Pierre Etcheverry Jr.
• Bill Steinke
We should consider reducing the Public Service Tax rate due to increased energy costs, the same way we reduced the millage rate because of increased property values. We need to invest more dollars in City beautification. While budgeted, I don’t believe we have actually invested all the budget in the same proportion as other comparable cities — and our beauty is one of our calling cards. If the DEP says we can remove the Chiquita lock, let’s get it done. Not only does it become more of a safety hazard each year (to wildlife and boaters) it will save on repair, maintenance and staffing, allowing those dollars to be used in other areas. Budget a full traffic study. While “triggering” numbers are in the hundreds for Developers to be required to pay for one and make required changes, we have added almost 50,000 new single family homes in the Cape Coral – Fort Myers area since the last one on record. A comprehensive assessment needs to be done to accommodate our burgeoning road usage and public safety.
The budget should not revolve around a taxpayer only strategy. I believe we should lower the LCEC tax and eliminate the charter school tax. Currently, the proposal includes 12 additional police officers and only one victim assistance advocate — we should instead add crisis workers to proactively deter crime. There is a line item for an internal Employee Recognition program, which is significantly important but could be led without the need to spend; I have an expertise in this area and know how to navigate this challenge without requiring extra dollars. The focus on environmental sustainability is not nearly sufficient. I would eliminate dollars spent on unnecessary code enforcement and re-allocate to our pressing environmental & education concerns.
• Joshua B. Clark
I believe our budget has the best intentions of the city. As our city becomes younger I would like to see an indoor community facility in the budget. The problem with the city’s budget is the timing and mismanagement of the funds. One example is the GO Bond. Funds being allocated four years ago are now going to cost 50% more today. If our city is going to budget for projects today then we need start the project soon after. Not years later. Otherwise, what is the purpose of our budget?
• Patty Cummings
Not being privy to all of the discussions and information, I will address how I would approach budget decisions rather than additions or deletions.
I take the spending of our tax dollars very seriously. As a business woman I would look at what would be a good return on our investment. I will bring the tools that I use in my home and business which is health and safety first, then what has the greater return on our investment in projects that have been brought to the table. I know it will be challenging on certain projects but health and welfare comes first.
We need to vote on what’s best for the citizens and the city as a whole. There will be tough times on making decisions, but I will educate you on why I am making a decision; it’s about doing the right thing. When we are looking at budgeting on certain items that are needed we should always ask ourselves, does this project add value to our community? If it doesn’t then we should reevaluate and look at other projects that are needed that offers value to our community.
• Jennifer I. Nelson, incumbent
As a proponent of the rollback rate, there are many factors we must consider to gain consensus from council. If you look at our trend over the past three years, our city has consistently been successful at balancing our budget.
In addition, we have a list of public improvements and programs that enhance the quality of life that we may be able to reprioritize by budget year. My goal is to accomplish both the rollback rate and be able to keep the studies for much-needed amenities.
General Election Ballot:
• John Gunter, incumbent
I propose that we add into our budget a Transportation Master Plan Study. There has not been a revised Transportation Master Plan for many years in our city. We are the 6th fastest growing city in the nation, and we must develop a plan to meet the transportation needs of today and for the future. We have capacity issues now throughout the city and we must develop a strategic plan for our transportation needs while prioritizing those needs accordingly.
The new Coral Oaks Golf Course Clubhouse design was in FY23 budget. Since water and sewer is not available in this area for the next few years, and it will be needed for this project, I would recommend cutting this design from the budget until that infrastructure is in place. Additionally, this will give us more time to possibly engage in a P3 opportunity within the private sector to help with the cost of this project.
• Tom Shadrach
Council has over-used consultants and contractors for studies and design concepts. The talent and input from local resident volunteers and city employees are more valuable in early development and will not burden the taxpayer. Another wasteful practice is adding contingency fees of 5-10% on projects. Contractors will require their project leaders to get these added to their contract. The budget is filled with good intentions, the problem is project execution. There is little accounting of cost and schedule after a project is authorized. If the council would hold the City Manager and staff accountable for performance, the City would save millions. The parks GO bond is a prime example of mismanagement. Four years after the vote, no one can say when these parks will be completed or provide an estimate of the expected costs. The budget should focus on safeguarding residents and always keep extra projects within the revenue provided by the Rolled-Back Millage rate. This is how we cut waste and be accountable to you the voter.
• Wayne Hecht
The 2023 FY Budget is still being formulated as of the time of this question and the updated budget as requested by council has not become public yet.
I will make sure public safety does not lose any funding. In fact, I am in favor of hiring more police officers and fire personnel to keep up with our growth. I will not throw your good money at projects that have not even started and are already over budget.
As a resident you must live within your means and as a Council, we must operate the city within its means. As a good steward of your money, I promise not to waste your money.
No more frivolous spending.
• Keith Long, incumbent
For me, the one item above all others I am advocating to be added to this year’s budget is the Police Department’s request for new Crime Center Equipment. This is something the Police Chief has been seeking for a number of years, and each year it has been excluded for varying reasons. As your Councilmember, my first priority is the safety of our residents. Therefore, I will always fight for any and all necessary equipment or personnel requests made by our first responders in an effort to ensure that they are providing the maximum level of service to this City to maintain our status as one of the safest in Florida.