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Guest opinion: City looks forward to more progress in 2018

January 26, 2018
By John Szerlag - City of Cape Coral City Manager , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

An editorial in this paper about "New Year's Revelations" highlighted a few of the significant projects receiving the City's attention in 2017.

I certainly appreciate the enthusiasm of the editorial writer, who shares my goal to have projects move at the speed of "now." Ultimately, the pace of projects is influenced by many factors - some of which are within our control and some are not. That said, there was much progress in 2017.

As the writer noted, the Seven Islands project does indeed hold great potential. The City had a professional appraisal of the property, which valued the land at $25.3 million. The City's Planning staff completed the draft zoning district and mixed-use comprehensive plan land use amendment in November. The zoning district language and comp plan amendment will be introduced at an upcoming City Council meeting. Once achieved a development option can be selected by City Council.

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John Szerlag

Our consultant is preparing their final presentation to City Council on potential plans for the Bimini Basin. The good news is the main property owners in the Bimini area are open and interested in future opportunities being generated by the City's planning efforts.

The Parks Master Plan holds great promise for our current and future residents. Parks and recreation play a major role in our quality of life, and our citizens will have to decide how important neighborhood parks, athletic fields, community parks, environmental centers, aquatic facilities and other parks components are to our community.

City Council has an option to have a referendum vote for a 10-year General Obligation bond to fund projects in the Master Plan. If approved, this would be about 0.5 mils on the property tax bill or $50 per year for a home with a taxable value of $100,000.

Within five years of voter approval, the City would complete many projects identified in the Plan including several neighborhood parks. Imagine the positive impact this bond issue can have on our community within a short timeframe.

If Council decides to hold a referendum vote, do not expect a "slick" education campaign. That is not our style. Our commitment is to provide detailed information to our citizens about our plans, work with our Parks Master Plan stakeholders group and answer any questions. If our community votes in favor of this important endeavor, they will be amazed at the results. We promise!

In addition to these projects, the City partnered with the Cape Coral Animal Shelter to advance a project to bring a no-kill shelter to the city. The City provided a 99-year lease for $1 per year to build the shelter on property near Sun Splash.

We took steps to address seasonal irrigation water concerns by signing an agreement with FGUA to receive 1.5 million to 3.5 million gallons daily of additional irrigation water. We also brought together four state agencies to allow the City to install temporary pumps at Southwest Aggregates mining reservoir in Charlotte County to bring irrigation water to our canals. This partnership alleviated the need for tighter watering restrictions.

The City provided a $1 million impact fee deferral to Liberty Park development, which will provide 320 units of multi-family housing, a 131-bed assisted living facility and 25,000 square feet of retail. The conference center at Westin Hotel was completed on time with $200,000 of economic development incentives from the City and $500,000 from Lee County via an innovative funding partnership.

Cape Coral landed on more than two dozen "Top" lists in 2017, including No. 1 on's "Fastest Growing Cities." We also were No. 1 on's "Best Cities to Retire" and No. 10 on their list of "Safest Cities in America." These accolades make Cape Coral a top destination in the state of Florida.

As for the electric franchise agreement and the writer's general chastisement of the City, and more specifically me, regarding negotiations, no one was more disappointed than I in the outcome with LCEC. It is puzzling the writer seems to advocate the City simply sign a franchise agreement regardless of the impact a bad agreement will have on Cape Coral for the next 30 years. As city manager, my obligation is to evaluate what is best for our ratepayers. Unlike the writer, I cannot ignore the generational and financial ramifications a bad decision would have on our citizens and our future development.

The writer also ignored how our City Council and the Cape Coral Council for Progress advanced franchise terms beneficial to Cape Coral customers that would have no cost to LCEC, which the LCEC Board dismissed. It also was disappointing the LCEC Board refused the City Council's invite to meet to discuss the franchise.

If LCEC is our electric service provider, we will pay more for electricity than our neighbors across the river served by FPL. We will have fewer services, lesser technology and no transparency in how LCEC sets rates and charges. We will not receive our increasing shares of the $340 million of "equity" LCEC is retaining.

Why did I "opine" that FPL might be a better option for Cape Coral? FPL produces the power and owns some of the transmission lines that serve Cape Coral. LCEC then buys their power from FPL and resells to ratepayers. FPL is one of the highest rated electric utilities in the country by J.D. Power, and their electric rates historically are the lowest in the state of Florida.

Knowing this, we have an obligation to get the best rates, reliability and technology for our citizens. Regardless of the writer's opinion, I believe we must explore the possibility of having FPL or another electric provider serve our city as the electric utility if LCEC does not agree to the franchise terms mentioned above.

How we move forward with our electric service is one of many important decisions that City Council will make this year. These decisions can have a positive and lasting impact on our community and keep Cape Coral moving forward.

Our achievement is merely a byproduct of decision makers having a positive focus for our community. We have accomplished much and have much more yet to accomplish.

- John Szerlag is the city manager of Cape Coral.



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