To the editor:
As our community moves ahead, on dealing with the long term fiscal needs of the city government, we need to understand the various revenue sources granted to local government, under Constitutional Home Rule and the Florida Statues. As a member of the City of Cape Coral's Budget Review Committee, I am working diligently with the City Manager, to find the most reasonable manner of distributing the burden of taxation among all citizens.
To begin with, as a native son of this community, I have always been for and will continue to be in favor of revenue diversification, as a means of equitable taxation. Just as the state and federal governments rely upon such a progressive method, whereas the tax burden is spread among various revenue streams, our municipal government has chosen to not follow those examples.
The City of Cape Coral has exercised and leveraged the revenue sources granted to it under Constitutional Home Rule, as upheld in the Florida Home Rule Powers Act of 1973, to include Proprietary & Regulatory Fees, Special Assessments, & Ad Valorem Taxation [i.e. AVT-Property Taxes]. Though these home rule/constitutionally driven revenue streams are constant and targeted, they are sources which should not solely provide the necessary funding, to meet the demands of a large metropolitan area such as our own. As economic cycles have come and gone over the decades in Cape Coral, the "fiscal crisis" that have ensued our municipal government over the years, are a direct result of how we have arrived at a similar situation in the present day.
However, the Florida Legislature gives municipal governments more additionally reliable taxation options needed to fund local governments, to include a Public Services Tax [PST]. Another option is the Local Government Infrastructure Surtax, levied at 1/2 to 1 percent, assessed in conjunction with a vote of the county government or a majority of the municipalities. Though I am in favor of the PST for now, any additional taxation must be directly tied to dropping the AVT levy, as a means of direct relief for homestead property owners. The long term capital needs of our community must be addressed as a matter of long term survival.
Furthermore, the ultimate question of whether we need the PST in the long term sight picture [10 years and beyond] , should be rephrased to ask, "Does the City of Cape Coral truly need The Lee County Electric Cooperative (LCEC) as the wholesale provider of its electric power?" Currently, 34 Florida municipalities (including the City of Orlando) act as wholesale electric power providers to their citizens, and deliver direct savings in the form of lower AVT rates and supplementation of Municipal General Funds. This act is accomplished through The Florida Municipal Power Agency (FMPA)a publically owned electric utility for municipal governments chartered by the State of Florida.
With a 30-year franchise contract between the City of Cape Coral and LCEC about to expire in 2016, our municipal government should be exploring all the options on the bargaining table, to protect the financial interests of the community. Though the start up costs could be high, the City of Cape Coral should examine the possibility of delivering electricity as a wholesale power provider, to ensure the long term sustainability of lowering tax liabilities for future citizens. At the very minimum, LCEC should be open to major concessions, as the City of Cape Coral does have another option to consider, with either FMPA or going it alone.
In regards to growth, I would also like to discuss a recent report generated by the Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) Regional Economic Research Institute. Within it, conclusions are reached that predict Lee County's population, will grow over 300,000 within 20 years. Though I agree that growth is comingit will be much more. In hindsight, Lee County's most pre-eminent seasonal resident (Thomas Edison) once said"There is only one Fort Myers and ninety million people are going to find out about it". In jest, I guess Thomas just did not know about Cape Coral at the time. For when my family moved here in 1973, there were roughly 15,000 residents. Forty years laterwe are over ten times that number. The FGCU predictions are conservative at the very least and off target at best.
As one can presume that many of those who move to Lee County will call Cape Coral home, such is only an assumption. Just as any marketable product, the City of Cape Coral competes for future residents with not only Lee County, but the entire region. Our community needs a strong symbolic mayor, that will exercise the role of being the greatest advocate and champion for what the City of Cape Coral represents.the most diverse & multicultural community in Southwest Floridaon the verge of an economic and political renaissance.
Finally, Cape Coral is the Queen of the Caloosahatchee to methe soon to be standard bearer in Commerce, Culture, and Community. In a mayor, we need a servant to selflessly inspire this community in not only words but deedsby recruiting sustainable development and growth through a positive force of personality. There are no more excusesto be the mayor one must have not only have a strong educational background...but a lifetime of 'people experience' which can discern the needs of otherscoupled with a deeply rich understanding of the neighborhoods in which one will come out of to hold public office. To truly be qualified and preside as Mayor of Cape Coralone needs to be a servant-leader.
In conclusion, the quality of life for our citizens must be raised. The days of a small but vocal minority, forever set against raising any revenue for the greater good of our community, must end with this generation of citizens. Growing up here in the 1980s, I heard the same arguments by different people who are now dead and buried somewhere else, but new faces with the same rhetoric have taken their place. Yet, for those who remain, have come home again, or are newcomers seeking the paradise we have always enjoyed...the future belongs to all of us...together as a family. For if we as citizens truly care enough about the needs of our neighbor, the municipal policy solutions we all desire will selflessly fall into place, because the desires of others will come before the selfish needs of all of us as individuals.
The days of the City of Cape Coral being the punch-line for humor throughout the region and the State of Florida, must immediately cease. For too long our city has been the donor community in all forms of capital (i.e. financial/human/political)...held back by internal forces that have refused to realize the city's greatness and external ones that cared more about keeping it a bedroom community. It is now time for the City of Cape Coral to assume the mantle of regional leadershippreside over the tremendous growth that is comingand finally rise!
Vince Cummings, MPA
Master of Public Administration
Candidate for Mayor Of Cape Coral