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How to kill a tax increase referendum

June 1, 2018
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The city of Cape Coral's reconvened parks master plan stakeholders group has held its first meeting to discuss the possible inclusion of two additional projects to the $60 million plan expected to come to the voters in November for funding approval.

City Manager John Szerlag has given the panel of 16 two new tasks: consideration of the purchase and development of the old golf course acreage, a project that bears a $25.5 million price tag, and the newly proposed Oasis Sports complex, projected to cost about $9 million.

The group met last Thursday.

Behind closed doors.

And they will continue to meet privately as needed as the city maintains such "stakeholder group" sessions can be closed to the public. It, in fact, has closed the meetings of similar panels charged with such things as providing input on contractor processes and the eagle protection zone ordinance set for a Council vote on Monday

The city manager says this is both appropriate and legal to do.

With regard to state open meeting laws, the city maintains administration-appointed panels like the one tapped to provide input on any additions or deletions to the Council-approved parks master plan can conduct meetings "out of the Sunshine" because 1) members are not appointed by Council but by the city manager; 2) the panels do not provide recommendations to Council but provide "input and feedback" to the city manager and 3) stakeholder groups have no official function, just an "internal" one that is advisory to staff only.

Ummm... OK. Maybe.

But what one can do and what one should do are not always the same thing.

This is one of those instances.

On Monday, the city will introduce an ordinance to put a referendum on the November ballot seeking voter approval to issue $60 million in general obligation bonds to fund this multi-year plan to create new parks, trails and community centers and to maintain and expand old ones. Council then is scheduled on June 18 to vote on whether to place the proposal, which calls for a .5 mill increase in property taxes to guarantee the funding, on the General Election ballot.

Sixty million dollars is a lot of money and a .5 mill tax hike - 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation - is going to require a lot of things if it hopes to pass muster in a community that overwhelmingly rejected the last such city proposal, a $110 million GO bond initiative for public safety.

One of the those things - in fact, the key thing required - is going to be public trust.

Trust in the project, trust that it is indeed needed, that the city has a critical lack in land and recreational improvements and that the only way to play both catchup and meet future needs is for property owners to dig a little deeper.

Trust in Council, trust that the individuals they elected have examined all alternatives and that the tax increase proposed is the best way - and maybe the only way - the pay for a critical need.

And trust in the city's administration, trust that staff will not only see that the additional public dollars raised via higher property taxes are spent wisely but that every tax dollar already being collected has been budgeted with prudence. Given the fact that the city administration has already sold two new taxes to previous councils with the promise that most of the "revenue diversification" funds raised through a fire assessment and public service tax on electric bills would be offset with lower property taxes, this may be a tad hard.

Unofficially kicking off the city's sure-to-come public information campaign with not one, but two, not-for-the-public strategies, is, at best, naive.

At worse, it is pretty much a sure way to kill the GO bond initiative aborning.

Eschew providing answers on a survey showing public support? Closed "stakeholder" meetings to garner public input that are closed to the public - i.e the majority of stakeholders?

What is the city's administration thinking?

We urge - we strongly urge - our city council to ask.

Publicly, please.

That would be such a refreshing change.

It might also go a little ways toward establishing some public trust in what should - what must -be a public process.

- Breeze editorial

 
 
 

 

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