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FEMA ‘revenue’

November 1, 2019
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Cape Coral City Council and taxpayers got a look Monday at possible projects that could be paid for with funds received or expected from FEMA to reimburse the city for cleanup costs related to Hurricane Irma.

The city has received $9,797,585 to date from the federal agency with another $6,183,411 expected over the next 24 months.

Total FEMA "revenue" is expected to be $17,181,718, about a million shy of the city's expenditure of approximately $18.1 million, including $13.1 million for debris removal.

City officials are looking to put about $9.4 million back into the city's disaster reserves and apply $7.8 million to a variety of projects - an estimated $3 million for a football field, bleachers, parking, practice field and concessions at Oasis High School, part of the city's municipal charter school system; $1 million for medians, $1 million for sidewalks and $1 million for a type of loan program for those whose seawalls were damaged as a result of Irma who don't have the ability to otherwise make repairs. The rest, with some still in FEMA appeal review, is proposed to be allocated toward the city's planned $18 million new fleet facility.

Few have questioned the return-to-reserves portion of the reimbursement allocation proposal.

The tendered projects funding, though, was questioned by Council, which flagged some of the expenditures, and by some members of the public who bluntly say the "revenue" is being greeted - and treated - as a slush fund.

First, some clarification.

While funds received by the city are "revenue" from a budgeting standpoint, in this case the word itself is a misnomer: The feds are reimbursing money for which the city is out-of-pocket.

In that context, a couple of things:

It certainly is fair to point out that the city chose not to reduce the property tax rate in the fiscal year following Irma as much money was expended with no way of knowing how much the city would receive back or when.

It also is fair to question the staff-tendered projects list with some on Council aptly pointing out the irony of proposing to spend $3 million on an athletics complex for the school system City Manager John Szerlag had just informed them would soon require a $1.5-million-per-year taxpayer subsidy because the system can not pay the $3.2 million annual debt service levy on the $61.2 million the city borrowed to build the schools.

But a slush fund?

More than half the money will go back into emergency reserves. This is appropriate.

Much of the rest will go toward projects that were left unfunded when money was diverted to pay for hurricane cleanup. While we can debate - or rebate- whether the city needs, say, the fleet facility, the proposal to put money back toward projects delayed by the storm is appropriate as well.

Other expenditures?

Count us in on the $1 million for sidewalks.

They're needed.

The sports facility at Oasis?

In light of the doom-and-gloom financial picture painted just prior to the FEMA update, this seems a tad slushy to us. More information - much more information- is needed on this one.

We also are not convinced the city-as-banker "special assessment revolving fund" for seawall replacement is a door the city wants to kick open.

We are pleased Council has pretty much said the same as we await the final allocation proposal from the city's administration.

-Breeze editorial



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