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Little to protest

September 15, 2012
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

On Thursday, the city of Cape Coral will hold its final budget hearing for the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

The operating budget under consideration totals $459,821,080, 4.13 percent more than last year's adopted financial plan. The general fund proposal is approximately $142 million, up from $138 million in 2011-12.

No increase in the property tax rate is proposed.

As tendered, the millage would remain at the current rate of 7.9570 mills, or just shy of $7.96 cents for every $1,000 of taxable valuation. Due to an overall bump in property valuations last year, the city will collect slightly more in property tax revenue, about $2,497,101, or 2.8 percent over last year.

It's a conservative budget.

It holds the tax rate.

It does not attempt to use the 3.82 percent blip in valuations - the first increase the city has seen since 2007 - to begin a rash of "makeup" spending as some would have us believe. Nor does it attempt to make political points with pennies-per-property cuts.

For the most part, it simply holds the line on the fund-operations, put-off-capital-projects status quo that was implemented when the bottom blew out of the real estate market and tax revenues plummeted.

Still, there is some room for tweaking, which we expect will come Thursday.

Among the items that should get a look are a budgetary request to reinstate the assistant city manager position and an informal request to spend up to $400,000 on consultants to analyze city operations, identify possible alternative revenue sources, and help develop a three-year budget plan.

Our initial reaction to the request for another top manager was a quick no-go. A little more thought, though, shows the position could actually save the city more than it will cost.

For one thing, eliminating a position and using consultants as the city did last go-around saves little to nothing. It was smoke and mirrors with our tax dollars and at a time when every dollar was critical.

We have no issue with the current council correcting that mistake.

Which brings us to the proposal to look outside the city for a department-by-department analysis of city operations, revenues, and preparation of the Cape's first multi-year budget.

Unless we're missing something really big here, the city should be able to do its analysis and projections in house - especially if council agrees to give the city manager the second-in-command position he says he needs.

OK the position and task him or her with Mr. Szerlag's desired project. It's a good one.

And one last thing. Scrutinize other requests for new positions and watch requests for raises, especially those dressed up as "reclassifications," "promotions" and the like.

One reason the city's personnel costs jumped so substantively during the boom years is back-door raises based, not on substantive changes in duties and responsibilities, but on title changes and specious comparison reports that used the stratified realm of government bureaucracies rather than real world workforce realities right here in Lee County.

We know - how well we know - where that can lead us.

So we urge council to spend some time vetting personnel costs, by far the largest portion of the budget. Watch for creep. It's fiscally prudent.

Other than that, we see little open to protest or debate.

If you have input on the tax rate or the budget, Thursday's budget meeting is set for a hair past 5 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall, 1015 Cultural Park Blvd. This will be your last chance to let our city officials know what you think either way.

- Breeze editorial



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