In a show of solidarity, perhaps more than 60 Cape Coral police officers and family members attended Monday's City Council meeting to make sure their frustration got the attention of the members. Wearing black shirts, the group occupied many of the chairs and lined the walls to be noticed.
Cape police employees has been without a contract agreement since last October - Monday made it 328 days, according to a union spokesperson. No city employee has received a pay increase in seven years, those belonging to the city's three bargaining unions as well as non-bargaining employees. Police, fire and general employee unions all agreed to 5 percent pay and benefit cuts several years ago.
The police officers' frustration with a lack of action by the city during current contract negotiations is evident.
Council members are considering up to a 5 percent pay increase in the 2015 budget to all city employees. However, the funds are tied to the Fire Services Assessment. The FSA methodology is being challenged in court by a group of citizens who have appealed a Circuit Court ruling in favor of the city to the Florida State Supreme Court in Tallahassee. That court has not ruled on the case at this time and the 2015 budget must be approved by Sept. 15 because it goes into effect on Oct. 1.
"We got you. We hear you," said Councilmember Derrick Donnell. "We are going to take care of you. The employees will come first. It's just the timing is a bit off right now."
Union president Bennett Walker, for the second time in two weeks, went to the podium to plead for an answer from council, but Monday he was not alone and pointed to those in black, who stood during his talk.
"Please take a good look," Walker said, pointing to the back of the room. "Some of the people you see will soon be leaving the department. We are on pace to have more officers quit the department this year, more than any year before in Cape Coral."
When Walker finished, all but one or two officers left the room.
Council again voiced its support of upcoming raises for all city employees and pleaded for more patience until the FSA decision is handed down.
In more routine business before the council Monday night, the panel unanimously approved six resolutions setting the rates and assessments for residential and commercial solid waste collection, vacant lot mowing in all four districts of the city, stormwater user fees, and certifying the tax assessment rolls for the Lee County Tax Collector.
Cape residents are being asked to pay $163.43 for garbage collection for 2015, an increase of $13.64 over what they paid in 2014. Commercial pick-up rates increased 1.01 percent and are billed directly to each business by Waste Pro.
The stormwater fee remains at $75 for a standard 80x125 buildable lot site, the same as it has been since 2006.
Vacant lot mowing rates are slightly lower next year in all four districts. The rate in District 1 is set at $28.13, District 2 at $20.92, District 3 and 4 at $20.91. The higher rate in District 1 is due to it having the fewest vacant lots, making it harder for the mowers to get in and out and distance between vacant lots.
Council also received an update presentation by building official Paul Dickson on the city's online permitting initiative which started in March with Phase 1 and now is moving into Phase 3.
The project began with in-house testing of the software program and on to Phase 2 in April with outside contractors accessing the system and requesting permits. Phase 3 consists of automated apply-pay-print capabilities for applicants for limited trade permits.
"In this phase, the applicant does not have to call the office, visit the office or interact with staff for these kinds of permits," said Dickson. "They can apply for permits 24 hours a day. This system is unique to Cape Coral and Southwest Florida. When they print out the permit they can take it to the job site and get started."
When asked by council, Dickson said he has received nothing but praise from contractors using the system. They have told him it is the easiest and most applicant friendly system they have ever used.
The city has issued more than 1,200 permits, or 12 percent, electronically in the last four months. Dickson said the goal is to issue 25 to 30 percent within one year.
Council will not meet next Monday due to Labor Day and has scheduled a special meeting on Thursday, Sept. 4. They return to the regular Monday meeting cycle on Sept. 8.