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The fiscal impact of admin bucks

December 13, 2019
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

For the Cape Coral Police Department, Monday likely was a very good day.

First, Cape Coral City Council finally approved the much- debated noise ordinance the department had sought -- and then some.

Council, with members John Cariosica and Jessica Cosden dissenting, OK'd a plethora of new restrictions the department maintains will make enforcement easier.

Article Photos

The new provisions give officers the authority to issue citations for violations they need not actually hear or measure as well as the ability to cite drivers -- and possibly passengers -- for noisy vehicles, defined as those that can be heard 50 feet away. The re-tendered measure also prohibits "amplified" sounds outside venues in the South Cape Entertainment District after 11 p.m., a new point of contention.

Fines are set at $150 for a first offense, $500 for any subsequent violation in the same year.

Also, after previous rejection because hoped-for state grant money fell through, Council approved $650,000 in city funding for the design of a new $8.3 million Public Safety Training Facility. The complex, to include an indoor gun range, classrooms, and outdoor courses for such things as K9 training, obstacle courses and blacktop for vehicle-based training, is to be built on 15 acres the city owns in the north Cape. It is now to be funded with police impact fee money.

A couple of things.

We have no issue with the CCPD proffering these proposals. None. The department's revamped presentation as to why it says it needs its own training facility instead of continuing to use the taxpayer-funded complex operated by the Lee County Sheriff's Office was well researched. The department not only re-iterated its arguments of convenience but provided new information concerning potential liability should some attorney make a claim that the city is failing to provide proper training as well as a listing of other cities whose departments have their own centers.

Our issues, as stated previously on these pages, is we believe the noise ordinance is problematic legislation now at odds with tax money spent, and we still believe the safety facility is, at this time, more a "want" than a need.

The $8.3 million will be but the tip of the cost for a complex that will require staffing as well as operational costs and maintenence. We predict these costs will easily outstrip the $250,000 per year the CCPD estimates it spends to meet state training mandates for certified personnel at the county facility 22 other agencies opt to use. We point out, as well, that the ammo costs and on-the-clock compensation will not go wholly away with an in-city facility.

But these things are not the main point here, which is why our issue is not with the Police Department but with the city's administrative culture that has fostered an "I need" mentality that, literally, brings millions and millions of dollars of projects to Council in bites that, if swallowed whole, would choke a horse.

Or at least gag the average taxpayer.

Understand, the city recently spent $13.5 million on a streetscape/infrastructure improvement project to foster walkability along Southeast 47th Terrace and so enhance the entertainment district - the same entertainment district now impeded by the 11 p.m. cutoff for most outside entertainment.

The heart of the issue is twofold: the money, of course, but also how the funding sources are identified and their subsequent impact on the general fund and so the taxpayers.

First case in point. The city will say that the streetscape project was mostly paid for with South Cape Community Redevelopment Agency funds. It was. But those are property tax dollars that would be in the general fund of the city and county if the CRA did not exist. They also did not cover the full cost.

And those police impact fee dollars to pay for the training facility? Those fees charged on new construction were collected so that "growth could pay for growth" and existing property owners would not need to fund things like vehicles and equipment for the officers needed to service new homes and businesses. Diverting that money for the training facility means that the capital items needed for each additional officer hired -- 37 projected from 2018 to 2022 -- will have to come out of -- you guessed it -- the general fund.

It's fiscal smoke and mirrors and it cloaks the cost and actual funding sources of projects in the queue.

Other such projects listed in City Manager John. Szerlag's three-year "rolling budget?

- A Public Safety Training Facility for the Cape Coral Fire Department, $6.5 million, to be funded by fire impact fees.

New fire stations in the same capital plan are to be funded out of the general fund and the fire assessment tax Mr. Szerlag introduced -- which many predicted would be more an additional review stream than the promised property tax diversification -- as will be the estimated 29 new firefighters to be hired and equipped by the FY2022 budget.

And what about the CRA, whose projects were originally intended to be funded via tax increment, or TIF, financing -- the increase in property tax revenue resulting from increased property valuations after the CRA was created?

Although Council has been less-than-supportive as it often is out of the gate, there are some pricey projects for the CRA in Mr. Szerlag's three-year budget, all deemed "needs" by proponents. These include a pedestrian bridge at an estimated cost of $5.5 million, to be funded over two years, purportedly with TIF funds; and a $10 million parking garage to be funded over two years from the same source.

Three million here. Five million there. How these admin bucks do add up for things staff "needs" in addition to the capital projects property owners deem a need: Additional officers, additional firefighters and station houses, additional sidewalks and road repaving and the big one, $60 million for the voter-approved parks master plan.

There can be a fine line between wants and needs.

We will grant our police department this.

But we see this line crossed too often and for too much.

More fiscal scrutiny and more discussion, please, concerning how suggested funding sources actually can impact the general fund in 2020 and beyond.

For ultimately, virtually all capital projects are funded or subsidized in some fashion or another by Cape Coral taxpayers.

And deep pockets are something our heavily residential community still lacks.

- Breeze editorial



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