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Cape’s budget workshops to begin

August 2, 2018
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Cape Coral City Council will hold two budget workshops next week in conjunction with the city's Budget Review Committee.

The workshops, which are open to the public, will be held in council chambers Tuesday and Thursday at 1 p.m.

"We will have a representative from Stantec (formerly Burton & Associates) with the revenue model so the city can look at various scenarios, input changes to see what kind of impact it will have now and into the future," said city spokesperson Connie Barron. "It's a good exercise and a good opportunity to discuss the budget, staffing, projects and other requests."

Stantec will present departmental budget models, showing various funding scenarios Council might wish to consider as it works its way through City Manager John Szerlag's proposed $780 million budget. The operations budget, which funds city departments and services, is a $211.6 million component.

Councilmember John Carioscia, who is taking part in his seventh budget, said things have changed tremendously since he started on the Council, especially with the way the city budgets.

"With the 'three-legged stool,' that literally brought the city back from financial ruin," Carioscia said of the city's revenue diversification decision. "We were able to start a paving program, buy police cars. "The joint meetings give us a little more transparency. The models are great because they give us projections even years down the road in real time. It's simple."

Mayor Joe Coviello, who was a member of the Budget Review Committee before he was elected, said it's great to have the BRC at the workshop because it allows them to ask questions of each department along with the city council.

Looking at it from the city point of view, Coviello said this Council seems to have a better grasp of the budget, especially council liaison to the BRC, John Gunter. He believes Council has had a chance to go through the more than 500 pages.

"We know where we're going with the millage rate, the FSA, PST and those numbers have been brought to us in the book we've had for several weeks," Coviello said. "We also get e-mails on things the BRC is asking for. If they want information, it's forwarded to us."

Szerlag recently submitted his proposed three-year budget for fiscal years 2019-21. It will continue to use his so-called "three-legged stool" approach that relies on added revenue streams.

On Monday, the City Council unanimously approved a not-to-exceed millage rate of 6.75, the same as in 2018, with a rollback rate of 6.4402, the levy at which the city would receive the same amount of revenue from property taxes.

By setting the not-to-exceed rate at 6.75 mills, or $1 for every $1,000 of assessed taxable valuation, Council cannot increase the rate. The elected board, however, has the option of lowering it. If unchanged, it will be the third straight year at that rate.

As proposed, the fire service assessment (FSA) would increase from 59 percent of the cost of operations this year to 62 percent in FY 2019, with another increase to 64 percent - the rate two years ago - in 2020. An estimated $26.1 million will be raised.

The Public Service Tax, a tax on electric bills, will remain at 7 percent with an estimated revenue of $7.3 million.

The main reason for keeping the millage constant is the financial impact to the city's fund balance following Hurricane Irma last year, officials said. The city had to pay $9 million in emergency reserves and $8.6 million in unassigned reserves.

The city expects to be reimbursed from FEMA at some point, but Szerlag has always said he budgets for "what is and not for what might be."

"It would be very welcome to have those dollars come in this fiscal year, but we don't expect that to happen. There are so many communities submitting for reimbursement not just in Florida but Texas as well," Barron said. "There's large demand on the time and talent from FEMA."

This year's budget will replenish $4.5 million in emergency reserves, and use $6.5 million from the existing fund balance from the five-cent and six-cent local option gas tax special revenue funds to continue the road paving program.

This year's proposed budget for all city funds is $780,530,614, of which the General Fund represents $211,642,492.

Other highlights in 2019 include:

-A 3 percent wage increase for city employees

-$311,000 in support services for the city's charter schools

-$312,000 for median improvements

-$520,000 for alley/spot paving

-$1.1 million for 22 full-time police officers needed for the state's mandate for all school districts to place one schools resource officer in every school.

A third "if needed" workshop will be held Aug. 23. Public hearings will be held Sept. 6 and Sept. 20 at 5:05 p.m. in council chambers.

Carioscia said it is likely they will stay at the 6.75 millage rate, but they are always looking for ways to cut that.

"We live here. We don't want to pay more taxes. If I can get a discount, I'm all for it," Carioscia said.



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