To the editor:
I have decided to withdraw from the mayor's race in Cape Coral. While I have no doubt that I could do the job well, it is clear to me that campaigning and fund-raising are not a part of my world. Still there are points that I want to make on important issues before the city.
1. Once the increases in property tax revenues equal the income from the public service tax (PST), that tax should be repealed. The PST is supposed to bring in $6.5M, and this year's increase in property tax revenue will be at least $2.1M over last year's. Thus in 1-3 more years we should be able to eliminate the PST. The term PST implies that the city is providing some service to residents and it is imposing a tax to help pay for that service. In that vein the fire services tax assessment (= tax) is a PST. But the PST on electricity usage is not really a tax on a public service, just a tax, since the city has nothing to do with the provision of electricity. It smacks of the city looking around for something to tax that everyone uses and deciding that electricity is a great candidate. Other cities may have it, but those cities almost certainly do not have the thousands of empty lots that Cape Coral has, the owners of which will pay no PST, the bulk of that tax falling on permanent residents and businesses.
2. The city has to take a more serious stance on pensions. For example, there are 170 firefighters, but only 12 over age 50. Why? Because it costs them money to work past age 50, since their pensions are so overly generous. A state employee has a multiplier of 1.75 percent (pension = 1.75 percent x years of service x average salary over a specified number of years). The firefighters have a multiplier that is nearly double at 3.25 percent. The average age of a firefighter is 37, with a salary of $75K. At 50, if they retired with 25 years of service, they would get 81.25 percent of their salary from age 45-50, and their take-home pay would be more than when they were working. And they get a 3 percent COLA every year thereafter. And they have a DROP program (why is another question.). Two retirees in 2012 received $402K and $482K in addition to their pensions. The amount put into the fund by the city last year was nearly $9M, triple that of seven years ago, while the employees put in $1.5M. Where I worked (University of Alabama), the state matched our contribution 1:1; Cape Coral is matching 6:1. None of this is the fault of the firefighters, and I would have taken it if I could have had it. It is the fault of past councils for agreeing to contracts that permitted this largess, which cannot continue indefinitely.
3. One of the most contentious issues is the Utilities Expansion Program. There is no single approach that is going to make everyone happy on this issue, and if we wait for such an event, utilities will never be installed. Everyone agrees that we cannot have a city that is perpetually split between those that have utilities and those that do not. The main problems are pace and cost. Once an area is 50-60 percent developed, utilities should go in. The emphasis should be on corridors to entice business development, and on areas west of Burnt Store Road, for ecological considerations. Once a decision is made, a timetable, with population thresholds, should be established, and then adhered to. Then people will know what to expect and be able to plan. The on-again, off-again approach of past councils needs to be avoided, so we don't look like we don't know what we are doing.
4. The Ceitus Boat lift should not be replaced. It did not work in the first place, would not work in the future, and was directed at a non-existent problem. The lift has been gone for over four years now, and none of the catastrophes predicted by the opponents of its removal has come to pass. The city has enacted a fertilizer ordinance, and has proposed other sound ecological practices that will prevent future problems. Let this issue die a long overdue death.
Gordon R. Ultsch, Ph.D.