To the editor:
With the recent change in City Manager and Council, the focus of Cape Coral's government went quickly from cost reduction to profligate spending and increasing taxes.
The first evidence of this shift was the questionable $13 million land grab using raided utility reserve funds. Next, we have the proposed hiring of a $100,000+/year helper for Mr. Szerlag, then spending $500,000+ for a consulting service to help him develop his three-year budget.
Council will shortly pass a budget with an 8 percent tax increase. Concurrently, they are considering a panoply of new and increased taxes. Increased taxes on your cable, electricity and phone, new taxes on fire protection and your already high water and sewer bill notwithstanding that it will increase 5-1/2 percent next month without any new tax.
Moreover, the water and sewer tax will have a disparate impact as those on well and septic will pay nothing while the already overburdened ratepayer will have to shoulder the entire tax. This is a fatal flaw and further creates mistrust and division in our city.
While these new taxes are being discussed, the city staff decided to take your $850,000 recycling rebate and put it into the general fund to try and cover their excessive spending rather than reducing your refuse collection bill.
These increased and new taxes differ significantly from traditional ad valorem property taxes. First, they are not deductible on your IRS return as property taxes are. Second, they are regressive and will impact most harshly on families with children who use more water, TV, electric, and phone service then singles or small families. And, the one that the City likes best is that they will go unnoticed as they will be collected by third parties and Council can increase them at any time without going through the scrutiny of the budget process.
At Tuesday's Council meeting, Mrs. Erbrick, the mother of all hypocrites, and Mr. McGrail spoke of mutual respect and trust between Staff, Council and citizens. What they don't understand is that those qualities must be earned. The unknown open mic incident of July 18 during which some City Staff in all candor displayed their self-serving attitude and contempt for some on Council illustrates that there is a very long way to go to achieve even a modicum of trust and respect.
At the Council Meeting Mr. Szerlag spoke of a current "financial urgency" becoming a "financial emergency" unless you, the taxpayer, are squeezed harder in the tax vice. Any fool can cure a financial urgency by taking more of your money. We don't need a six-figure manager with a six-figure assistant to do that. Truth be known most of the problem is due to excessive retirement pensions and benefits. For example, our unfunded pension liability went from $52,800,000 in 2005 to $198,200,000 in 2011, a factor of 4 increase just in pensions let alone other retirement benefits such as free health care and life insurance!
I believe we should not give the City anymore of our money until they can demonstrate that they deserve it by addressing these cost issues. So far, all I have seen demonstrated is that they want more money and will continue to use ingenuity and guile to get it.
Who is to blame for this? We are! With only 16 percent turnout for elections, special interests exert an inordinate influence and place those on Council to look after their interests not yours.
Voting wisely is the only way you can throw off this yoke and protect your earnings.