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City to ask county for scrub jay mitigation funds

May 13, 2014
Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

City Council discussed two important issues at Monday's meeting regarding the Lee County Conservation 20/20 Program and on bringing back a charter review commission before being required to in 2016.

City Manager John Szerlag presented information on 20/20 that staff gathered by reviewing data, as previously requested by council.

Szerlag told the panel that since Fiscal Year 1998 when the 20/20 program was created, the county has collected more than $411 million from a 0.5 millage rate on all tax bills. Cape Coral taxpayers have forked over $76 million, or 18.5 percent of the total.

"Lee County has acquired 120 properties at a cost of $303.2 million," Szerlag said. "Ten of those properties are within Cape Coral and cost $6.6 million, 2.2 percent of the total and just 8.9 percent of Cape Coral's levy."

That leaves 20/20 with an unspent balance of $102.1 million on Jan. 2, 2014. It is estimated that future annual spending would be $26 million from levied taxes.

"Cape Coral is giving the county about 20 percent of the total revenue and only getting back about 8 percent," Szerlag concluded.

Given those figures and the anticipated annual expenditure council expressed a desire to ask the county to reimburse the city more than $870,000 for the city's scrub jay mitigation effort. In 2012, the city agreed to budget for the expenditure. An effort led by Councilmember Jim Burch prompted staff to research the revenue stream and what benefits the city was getting back from the program that was created as a seven-year program that never was given a sunset date.

Mayor Marni Sawicki challenged council to come up with a list of priority projects it might want to ask the county to help fund through its budget, especially considering Cape Coral accounts for about one-third of all the county area.

Council directed Szerlag to call Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais to see if the county would agree to the request.

On the charter review commission issue brought before council by Rana Erbrick, council voted 8-0 to go forward.

A commission was established in 2010 and was sunset in 2012. The city is not required to reseat a commission before 2016, by law, but proposed charter amendments are starting to be brought to the attention of council members by citizens.

The charter review commission would make recommendations regarding amendments for council to decide whether they would be put on election ballots and voted on by citizens.

"The economy is getting better now and there are two amendments from citizens sitting out there," said Erbrick. "If we want to seat a commission then now is the time to start to hash things out even though we are not required to at this time."

Councilmember Lenny Nesta agreed, "If we have to do it in 2016 why not get a jump on it."

Erbrick made the motion to move forward and council approved unanimously.

Over the next few months the city also will be seeking volunteers to apply to serve on the commission.

The next council meeting is scheduled for May 19.



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