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Bang for the buck

January 9, 2015
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

There has been a great deal of debate about the city of Cape Coral's relatively new fire services "assessment."

The tax established in June 2012, is intended to pay a portion of the costs of operating the city-run Cape Coral Fire Department, which previously was funded wholly through property taxes as are all city departments that are not "enterprise" operations, such as utilities and permitting.

As required, all of the money raised through the assessment is budgeted for CCFD operations, however the establishment of the new "assessment" potentially frees up property tax revenues previously used for fire services for other uses.

We say "potentially" because, as of press time, the legality of the methodology the city used to determine who pays what remains under review by the state supreme court where it landed after an unsuccessful challenge and subsequent appeal by a handful of residents.

Wednesday, taxpayers will get another look at how the city plans to spend the money if and when the court finds the already-in-collection assessment legal.

A large amount is earmarked for road repaving, with major roads given top priority followed by residential streets with utilities in place and both homes and traffic followed by less developed residential streets.

According to an advance look at Wednesday's presentation set for 4:30 p.m at the Nicholas Annex, the city needs to earmark $2 million per year for the paving of major roadways and another $4.5 million for residential streets.

That's $6.5 million per year for a plan that would keep Cape streets repaved within their estimated 20-24 year "life cycles" with major roads being repaved every 10-12 years.

The city says it needs another $5.5 million this year for its 2015 repaving schedule but that is pending a favorable Florida Supreme Court ruling. Without that, the repaving plan for this year will be reduced to the mileage allowed by a $1 million budget.

Count us among those who have been hesitant to endorse the use of annual "assessments" to tax property owners: a tax is a tax is a tax - and this is a big one. That's why the assessment in lieu of ad valorem taxes concept is failing in many fire districts where voter approval is required.

Count us also among those who recognize "assessments" as an end run around the Save Our Homes exemptions and caps with little in the language to prevent sticker shock in the future. Especially in light of the fact that proponents have proposed that the state enact legislation that would allow local governments to "assess" for other services such as law enforcement.

We agree: imposing what is an additional property tax on top of a property tax merits watching.

And we will.

But meanwhile, at least here in the Cape, taxpayers will see some tangible return on the additional bill.

That's not a bad thing.

-Breeze editorial



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