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Cape council should go slow on regional planning council decision

August 20, 2011
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Saying the city of Cape Coral receives no bang for its buck, Mayor John Sullivan is recommending the Cape withdraw from the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council.

Withdrawing from the organization comprised of a membership representing Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Sarasota, Glades and Hendry counties and their various municipalities, will save Cape Coral $50,000 per year in membership dues, Mayor Sullivan says.

Meanwhile, Lee County members of the planning council - currently Commissioners Frank Mann and Brian Bigelow - can adequately represent the city's interests, or, if need be, Cape officials can provide input during the public comments portion of the planning board's meetings, according to the mayor.

Mayor Sullivan is correct to bring the membership issue to city council. Given that the city is looking at additional revenue declines, examining expenditures and weighing benefits against those costs is always appropriate. And considering the recent controversies concerning how the planning council's monies should be spent, taking a look at whether the Cape should continue to be involved is especially prudent.

We are not convinced, however, that the city has done enough homework to make an informed decision nor do we think it's the appropriate time to determine whether a pullout is in the best interests of either the Cape or the region of which it is a part.

The Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council is one of 11 such councils in the state. Formed locally in 1973 via an interlocal agreement according to state statute, the Southwest council "acts as a regional information clearinghouse, conducts research to develop and maintain area wide goals, objectives, and policies, and assists in implementing a number of local, state, and federal programs. The Council serves as an advocate for the Region with State and Federal agencies, including the Legislature and Congress," its website states.

It's specific mission is to protect regional resources, and job creation.

To that end the council employs a staff of, currently, 25 people.

The total budget, all planning entities, is approximately $4.23 million with a good portion of the money coming from membership dues.

The Cape's current dues, based on population, are $48,855.60, paid in quarterly installments, the last of which is overdue. Next year's dues are $46,291.50.

The planning council itself has 40 members, by law set at 25 elected officials, both county and municipal; 10 gubernatorial appointees; and five de facto, or non-voting, members representing state agencies, also appointed by the governor.

Cape Coral has one representative on the council. Currently that's Mayor John Sullivan, who has attended virtually all meetings of the board, missing only two as the representative of the largest city in the region since his appointment in November 2009.

Among the planning councils statewide, Regional District 9 is one of the more significant, encompassing a land area of nearly 6,000 square miles.

For this reason, we think our city council should go slow and look not only at what might be best for the Cape short-term, but what will benefit Cape Coral - and the entire region of which it is a part - in the long-term.

We suggest two things:

One, that the city address its membership, and those dues the mayor would like to save, during the budget workshops and meetings process. Specifically, membership should be considered within the context of the city of Cape Coral's economic development plan. We've been told that includes the hiring of a new economic development director and a new concentration of effort on jobs.

The question the Cape council needs to address is how does the mayor's recommendation dovetail into these stated city goals?

Membership and a leadership presence within the Southwest Regional Planning Council needs to be part of that conversation.

Two, the city needs to pay its in-arrears dues now.

The $12,213.90 bill for the current quarter went out July 1 and remains unpaid at Mayor Sullivan's request. That's not only inappropriate, it's embarrassing and a usurpation of city council authority as a whole.

Pay the bill, then consider Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council membership in the context of the city's economic development efforts and how important it is to be a player on a regional scale.

Those are the issues at hand.

- Breeze editorial



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