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Last chance

September 12, 2014
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Cape Coral taxpayers will have a final chance to express their opinions on the City of Cape Coral and Lee County budget proposals next week.

The county will hold its final budget hearing on Wednesday, the city on Thursday.

Each contains some measures that have stirred comment but have perked forward nonetheless.

The good news is Lee County will balance its budget this year without using reserves or raiding 20/20. The board also has addressed some of its previous cuts to bus routes and plans some route re-instatements, albeit at a slight increase in rider rates.

Here in the Cape, the city is also on sounder ground.

The city's working $574.6 million proposal keeps the tax rate at 7.7070 mils; leaves the public services tax on electric bills at 7 percent; and maintains the fire assessment rate implemented this budget year - pending final court approval - at 38 percent of the cost of departmental operations. (That puts more money in the general fund from which the fire department was formerly funded.)

Fact Box

Cost of raises

According to the city's Financial Services Department, the total cost of raises for the new year, General Fund employees only, would be:

1 percent = $500,000

3 percent = $1.5 million

5 percent = $2.5 Million

Those numbers do not reflect cost for utility or storm water employees, who are not paid from the General Fund.

This will allow the city to maintain existing service levels and pay for daily operations while funding a capital expenditure program of $14.7 million each year, including $6.5 million for road re-paving.

One portion of the proposal that has drawn, perhaps, the most public scrutiny, is the bid to give city employees an across-the-board raise of up to 5 percent with that top number being the one sitting on the table.

The justification for 5 percent is two-fold, proponents say: 1) City workers have not received a raise in seven years and it's past time to look at compensation increases and 2) the city is beginning to lose key professionals, notably police officers, because the Cape is not competitive in the job market.

We agree that the city has a staff of which to be proud.

We agree that career opportunities are beginning to crack open just a bit.

But we do not believe that Cape Coral is as non-competitive as some would have us believe when total compensation, not just wages, is taken into consideration. Simply put, the city offers benefits well in excess of the private sector and they are pretty good compared to other communities as well.

Compensation is more than an hourly wage, something we urge council to consider carefully.

We also urge council to put the raise issue into local context.

We'll wager that private sector plans for 5 percent across-the-board bumps are all but non-existent.

The county, meanwhile, is looking at 3 percent, which officials there are calling a COLA, or cost-of-living, boost.

That seems a lot more realistic.

If you still have questions, if you still need clarification, if you still have input on the tax plan or where the money will be used, Thursday will be your last chance to ask.

We urge Cape property owners to take advantage of this opportunity as well, if only to get information.

The county budget hearing will be held in the Board of County Commissioner's Chambers, 2120 Main St. in Fort Myers.

The city of Cape Coral budget hearing will be held in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1015 Cultural Park Blvd.

Both meetings will begin at 5 p.m.

-Breeze editorial



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