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Budget process begins

August 3, 2018
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

City Council will spend the next two months holding budget workshops, working with the Budget Review Committee, and accepting input from the public before convening a pair of hearings to set the budget for the fiscal year to begin Oct. 1.

Budget workshops are planned for Aug. 7 and 9, at 1 p.m. each day, in council chambers, with an "if necessary" third meeting set for Aug. 23.

The public hearings are set for Sept. 6 and 20, at 5:05 p.m., also in council chambers.

Why should those of us who pay a property tax bill - or an electric bill, or sales or gas taxes for purchases made in the city - care about the process?

Because we, literally, fund the budget in these ways and more.

According to City Manager John Szerlag's explanatory summary, the 2019 fiscal year budget for all city funds is proposed at $780,530,614. The General Fund, which pays for city operations - including such things as police, public works and administrative functions - is proposed at $211,642,492 of the total.

To fund the General Fund budget as proposed, Mr. Szerlag recommends:

* The property tax rate remain at 6.75 mills, which would generate $92.7 million.

City Council has made this rate its starting point by setting it as the "not-to-exceed" rate. The elected board may now choose to go lower but cannot increase the rate during the remainder of the budget process. Due to an 8.49 percent increase in overall taxable property valuation, the 6.75 mill rate will result in an estimated $4.3 million more in revenue than the "rollback rate" of 6.4402. The "rollback rate" is the rate at which the same amount of tax dollars would be received.

Given that the city still has not received FEMA reimbursement for costs associated with Hurricane Irma, given that the city has committed to funding most of the cost of state-mandated school resource officers at Lee County School District schools within the city, and given that another statewide Homestead Exemption proposal is on the General Election ballot, it's a logical starting point.

Whether it's appropriate for the final levy remains to be seen. The city also has agreed to pay almost all of the costs for SROs for charter schools within the city limits but outside its municipal school system. The proposed budget continues subsidies for both municipal charter schools and the South Cape Community Redevelopment Agency, both of which are taxpayer funded from other sources.

* Keeping the public service tax on electric bills at 7 percent, with estimated revenue of $7.3 million.

* Increasing the fire service assessment for cost recovery of operations from 59 percent - the level to which it was lowered last year after a big bump in building costs -to 62 percent, two percentage points lower than 2017. Estimated revenue is $26.1 million, $1.6 million more than last year.

* Increasing the stormwater fee to $119, up $4 from last year with additional increases expected over the next two years.

It will be Council's decision to keep, or lower, any or all of these recommended taxes and fees.

If you have input, we urge you to provide it early.

Other reasons to get involved in the process?

In addition to determining tax rates, the budget process also sets the template for expenditures, capital and administrative.

Cash funding for capital projects for next year include the continuation of annual funding for:

* $6.5 million for local road resurfacing

* $312,000 for median improvements

* $520,000 for alley/spot paving program

These are good programs with road repaving still in makeup mode from the recession.

Missing, though, is any capital funding for parks and recreation.

Taxpayers may want to ask for some assurance that the property tax increase to guarantee the $60 million General Obligation Bond initiative on the ballot in November isn't going to include "replacement" dollars directed elsewhere.

And why the city says there's a critical need if existing projects can be tabled.

The process provides for ample input.

Council, we believe, listens.

We urge residents who want to have a say to take advantage of that.

-Breeze editorial



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