Cape Coral City Council will hold its first budget workshop next week.
The open-to-the public meeting on the budget proposal for Fiscal Years 2015-2017 is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 7, in Council Chambers.
The workshop will be followed by at least one other, plus a pair of public hearings once the proposal nears its final form.
In its proposed form, City Manager John Szerlag's $574.6 million proposal takes into account 4.67 percent in taxable revenue growth, proposes a tax rate reduction of .75 mils from 7.7070 to 6.9570; leaves the public services tax on electric bills at 7 percent and includes a fire assessment that this year - with final court approval - will be at 64 percent of the cost of departmental operations. (That puts more money in the general fund from which the fire department was formerly funded.)
Mr. Szerlag is proposing a raise of up to 5 percent on employees' base pay; the reinstatement of positions he says are needed to support capital programs and daily operations, and a capital expenditure program of $14.7 million each year, including $6.5 million for road re-paving.
According to his budget summary to council and staff, no new programs or expansions to current ones are in the working document. Other key elements of his plan also include re-instating $100,000 in annual funding to pay for about 225 streetlights per year, a $100,000 general fund transfer to the downtown Community Redevelopment Agency, $100,000 for federal lobbying, $140,000 to update the city's Park Master Plan and $150,000 for master planning for two water-front areas in the city, the Downtown Bimini Basin and the Seven Islands in the northwest Cape.
The General Fund portion of the proposal - that component that pays for general city operations - is $170.13 million, up from the approximate $148.83 million adopted 2014 budget, which has been slightly reduced to $147.40 million as amended.
We thank Mr. Szerlag for his efforts, especially his continuation of a multi-year plan and his bid to re-establish a viable capital improvements program - with the revenue to pay for it.
It is now up to city council to scrutinize the proposal and to ask the hard questions.
The issue is not whether the city "pays enough" as compared to other communities, a spiraling staircase mindset that not only frequently discounts the benefits portion of the equation but is the very thing that got governmental agencies, offices and districts in so much trouble when inflated boom-year revenues deflated.
It's not that we oppose raises per se, or think city staffers do not "deserve" them. It is that personnel costs not only make up the bulk of the general fund budget, they carry a legacy costs price tag that can prove hefty, indeed.
It is for this reason we urge council to look to local workforce comparisons and to crunch numbers - all of them - hard.
If you have an opinion, it's not too early to let council know.
Council Chambers are at City Hall, 1015 Cultural Park Blvd.