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Tough part lies ahead

June 4, 2011
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

According to preliminary numbers released by Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson's office this week, the collective valuation of property in Lee County dropped another 5.29 percent in 2010.

In the Cape, overall valuation dipped 4.87 percent, somewhat better than the 6 percent decline for which city staff has been preparing.

Since most government revenue is derived from property taxes, valuation is the number local governments use to project how much money they can expect from this tax source for next year's budget.

Declines in valuation mean less revenue even if tax rates stay the same, and it's a sad commentary when a near 5 percent drop is "good" news for the city.

However, 5 percent more or less is much better than the double digit plummets of 15 and 25 percent experienced over the last couple of years, especially in the context that overall valuation in Lee County has dropped by more than 50 percent from the artificial high created by the real estate boom.

In terms of impact, the latest numbers mean the county is looking at another $50 million or so in revenue declines from property taxes. Cape Coral is looking at $3.5 million less next year.

For those of us who write a check each year to the tax collector, the news is mixed. Some property owners can hope for a smaller tax bill unless local taxing authorities decide to raise rates.

Others, though, who own homesteaded property can expect little or nothing in the way of tax relief either way as the state mandates the "recapture" of tax breaks allowed for owner-occupied residential property when valuations skyrocketed.

Our local taxing agencies, such as Lee County, the school district and the city of Cape Coral, now face another challenging budget process ahead as officials try to balance more budget cuts with demands for services.

Officials at all levels have been preparing with the city of Cape Coral, in particular, taking a hard-line approach.

They should not be criticized for this - putting even the sacred cows in the scope as the city considers the hard decisions ahead is appropriate. All options should be weighed, and we commend City Manager Gary King for seeking information via requests for proposal while putting outsourcing recommendations on the table.

Scrutinizing personnel costs, particularly benefits and "legacy" costs, also has been the correct thing to do.

The hard part, though, remains.

Proposals and fact gathering is budgeting 101. It's the easy part.

Deciding which make good fiscal sense in the long term is post-graduate work. It separates the pros from the politicos whose best effort is often promising "cuts" and "savings" that won't materialize or proffering short-term "solutions" that just transfer the burden down the road.

We ask our officials to know the difference.

The tough decisions still lie ahead.

- Breeze editorial



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