Guest Commentary: Maximizing community benefits – Understanding Cape Coral’s FY 2024 City Budget
The city of Cape Coral has unveiled its proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, outlining a strategic plan to improve services and invest in the community. Cape Coral is entering FY24 in a solid financial condition resulting from actions taken in 2022 and 2023. The FY24 Proposed Budget brings positive news in the wake of Hurricane Ian. Our city remains in a solid growth position.
The increase in General Fund revenues and expenditures (the primary operating fund for the city and supported by property taxes) is lower than the recent increases in the consumer price index. Most of the growth in our budget is a result of our need to expand services to keep pace with the needs of our community. This requires the addition of more staff throughout the organization.
To enhance our public safety services, the City has added eight police officers and 11 firefighters, plus support staff. The additional positions will help improve response times as well as staff and operate the new police and fire training facilities. Our Stormwater Fund added a pipe crew, swale crew, and sod crew to help reduce the 18-month backlog for drainage improvements and maintenance of our extensive network of stormwater pipes. Their work will help alleviate localized street flooding. Our Water and Sewer Fund added 12 positions to help address the growing number of customers. The increase in customers is a result of our continuing utilities extension projects and infill growth where water and sewer are already available. The additional 12 positions include customer service staff and field technicians. The additional customer service staff will help reduce wait times for callers and additional field technicians will assist with maintaining and repairing the thousands of fire hydrants located throughout the city. Our Solid Waste Fund added a solid waste inspector position to monitor and ensure contractual compliance by our contracted solid waste provider and residents.
City Council continues to focus on enhancing the aesthetics of our community by dedicating funding to increase beautification throughout the city including median landscaping. We are also funding the replacement of trees and shrubs lost during Hurricane Ian. Our federal and state governments do not provide funding reimbursement for lost vegetation.
The city continues to address deferred maintenance via Operation Sparkle, an effort focusing on updating existing parks. Storm Football is the first facility to be updated, with Burton Park and Northwest Softball on the list for the upcoming fiscal year. We also are establishing an annual plan to replace our playgrounds with three slated for replacement this year: Jim Jeffers Park, Joe Stonis Park and the Youth Center.
On the transportation side, we are continuing our annual paving program by allocating $7.4 million for road resurfacing. We have set aside more than $3 million to install traffic lights for intersection improvements at four locations. This will make our residents’ commute to and from work safer. We are also advancing the planning and design for the future widening of Pine Island Road.
Our water and sewer extension plan will continue with the upcoming construction of North 1 East and design of North 3. When added to North 1 West, the construction will bring water, sewer and irrigation services to an additional 12,147 parcels in the city. Having these services in place will reduce the impact on our groundwater aquifer and provide a reliable source of drinking water. In addition, eliminating septic systems will remove contaminants from our environment and protect our groundwater. Another benefit of providing centralized water and sewer services in north Cape Coral is the opportunity for commercial businesses to locate to that region.
The city is able to provide the aforementioned service enhancements to our residents and still maintain the current property tax millage rate. The FY24 Proposed Budget does include an increase to the Fire Services Assessment, which is necessary to provide life safety services for our growing community. As our population increases our provision of service must also increase. Our commitment will always remain to provide high-quality services at the most reasonable cost to our residents. The FY24 Proposed Budget allows us to keep this commitment, address immediate needs driven by our current growth and prepare for our future residents and businesses.
— Michael Ilczyszyn is Cape Coral’s interim city manager.