5 Things To Know from the Cape Coral City Council Meeting (Apr. 3)

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Cape Coral's City Council held its first regular meeting of March at City Hall Monday evening.

The meeting included discussions on the Municipal Charter School internal audit, proposed design for the SE 47th Terrace Streetscape Project, moving forward with a large scale water reservoir, and more. 

 

Below are five takeaways from last night’s meeting.

 

Charter school system audit results debated

On the eve of an emergency meeting held by the Municipal Charter School Governing Board to determine its first steps in finding a new superintendent, the city council took steps of its own to rein in what it feels is a financial structure lacking control under the current processes of the charter school system.

In question was system's internal funds which include monies raised through school sponsored activities and functions such as; fundraisers, donations, extracurricular activities, etc.

The audit found 18 issues mainly focusing on issues with the lack of internal controls regarding how those monies were tracked, budgeted, and dispersed, "They are not using controls to ensure the money is going back into the school system," explained city finance director Victoria Bateman.

The audit provided recommendations for all 18 issues to bring the system into compliance with policies and procedures, code of ordinances, administrative regulations, applicable labor laws, and legal requirements.

And while the school system responded to all 18 recommendations, and was commended by those conducting the audit for doing so, more concerning to the audit committee was the lack of inclusion of the city's finance department by the school system to aid in rectifying the issues, "The board said would fix the issues but, they gave no indication they would use city resources in doing so. It is unreasonable to put corrections in the hands of the same hands that created those weaknesses."

In response to the audit committee members comments, council member Richard Leon read a written statement from Superintendent Nelson Stephenson, who was not in attendance at the meeting, that in part said it was never the intent of he or the school board to exclude the finance director on solutions stemming from the internal audit. Leon went on to read that Stephenson would be happy to include anyone in the city to assist in creating a better process.

Mayor Marni Sawicki echoed the sentiments expressed by Bateman while saying it was time to move on from the blame game that has plagued the conversations in recent months, "It is not about the who but, about the what. We don’t know where the money has gone. The point is to fix it and build a better system."

However council member John Carioscia was not so willing to move on saying the city may want to seek help from the State Attorney to sort out if any funds were criminally taken, "If there is a way to recover or connect the dots, we should send it over to the investigators that know how to do it."

Council Member Jessica Cosden, who also serves as the Governing Board Chairperson, said she didn’t dispute the audit findings but, defended the school system, and outgoing superintendent Nelson Stephenson reminding the city council that it was Stephenson who called for the first internal audit in the school system's history, "This is what happens when you let a school system grow for 12 years and never perform an internal audit. There were no findings of staff fraud found in the report."

Cosden went on to say that the governing board would address the recommendations at the board's April 12 meeting, and resolving the issues would be a top priority for the new superintendent.

The conversation concluded with the city council voting 6-2 (council members Leon and Carioscia cast the dissenting votes ) to support the recommendations from the audit committee that charter school authority comply with the policies and procedures of the city's financial services department and utilize the expertise of both the city and charter school financial directors in implementing the recommendations from the audit.

 

Proposed water reservoir moves to the next step

The city council approved a request by Utilities Director Jeff Pearson for an emergency purchase order to hire consulting firm Water Science Associates, Inc. to conduct analysis on a local mining pit that could be converted into a major water supply to help replenish the extremely low levels currently in the city's canal systems.

The city hopes to purchase and use the 1,030-acre former aggregate mining property along US41 as a water reservoir that would transport 15 million to 17 million gallons of water per day from the mining property to Gator Slough, which serves as a primary feeder canal for the city's water system north of Pine Island Road. Pearson said if all goes according to plan, the reservoir will provide an additional 1.5 billion gallons of water, essentially doubling the amount of what is currently being stored in Cape Coral's canal system for irrigation use.

The city says if the planned reservoir comes to fruition it will not only benefit Cape Coral but, the entire Southwest Florida region.

The cost to purchase the land, convert the mine into a reservoir, and transport the water both north and south of Pine Island Road is being estimated between $32 million and $38 million.

However, before that can happen, the city would need to determine if the property is feasible for such a task. To do that, Pearson explained that is where the hiring of Water Science Associates, Inc. would come in. The firm would conduct short-term tests that will include conduct the short-term tests of water discharge from the three mining pits located at the property, develop a work plan; water sampling; review the method for water delivery system, and monitor, measure, collect data analysis, document, and act as the record keeper for meetings related to the project.

Agreeing that the reservoir could serve as a considerable benefit to the city and region, the city council voted unanimously to approve hiring the firm to conduct the analysis at the cost of $186,957.

 

Bicycle & Pedestrian Master Plan approved

The city's first Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan is now official.

During Monday night's meeting, the city council unanimously approved the plan that will add 93 miles of sidewalks, 22 miles of multi-use paths, and 138 miles of on-street bike paths over the next 15 to 20 years.

The plan was created to provide a cycling network safe for bicyclists and pedestrians that will spread throughout the city.

The cost to construct the network is estimated at $63 million.

Alta Planning and Design, the company hired by the city to create the master plan, recommended the city seek state and federal grants, make the improvements part of the city's UEP and Road Repaving initiatives, as well as using future gas tax allocations to fund the projects. According to the firm, with those allocations, 30% of the proposed bike and pedestrian projects would be funded through Fiscal Year 2022.

The city has already utilized an over $3 million grant it received from the state to begin construction of a multi-use path along Kismet Parkway.

In related news, at the beginning of Monday's meeting, the City of Cape Coral and the Cape Coral Bike-Ped organization received the 2016 Bicycle Friendly Community Award from the Florida Bicycle Association.

The non-profit organization was created to promote bicycle safety throughout the state of Florida and annually recognizes contributions to accomplish that goal. Florida Bicycle Association President Becky Afonso was on hand at the meeting to present the city and Bike-Ped the award, and commended both for their partnership to create a network of bicycle paths in the city making it safer for both bicyclists and pedestrians.

 

Council/CRA approves SE 47th Terrace Streetscape Project design

Before Monday's regular meeting, the city council, acting in their roles as CRA Commissioners held a special meeting to discuss whether or not to approve the proposed design plan for the SE 47th Terrace Streetscape Project.

Called a "legacy project" by City Manager John Szerlag, the $8.5 million initiative will completely revitalize the look of SE 47th Terrace from Del Prado Boulevard to Coronado Parkway.

According to the proposed design, the project will include brick paver expanded sidewalks on both sides of the road, new landscaping, custom street lighting, elimination of on-street parking, and a roundabout at the intersection of SE 47th Terrace and Vincennes Boulevard.

It has been the roundabout that has caused the most publicity since the design plans have been released, with some concerned the roundabout could cause traffic issues on the busy street.

However, city traffic engineer Bill Corbett explained during Monday's presentation that roundabouts provide a safer option for both pedestrians and drivers reducing traffic crashes by 48% than other traffic calming options on the average.

Regarding the size of the roundabout, Corbett also assured the board of commissioners that the city has enough land in the surrounding right-of-ways to accommodate for the roundabout.

In addition to the aesthetic upgrades, the project will also include water and sewer upgrades. The $1.9 million cost for those upgrades will be paid through the city's water and sewer fund. The remaining $6.6 million cost of the project will be shared by the city and CRA. Szerlag says the current plan is for the city and CRA to equally share that cost. However, as time comes closer to pay for the construction that could change depending on the financial health of both entities. Meaning if one fund has a stronger financial setting, it could cover more of the cost burden for the project.

After hearing the presentation, the commissioners unanimously voted to approve the design, and later during the regular city council meeting, council members once again unanimously approved the design moving the project to the next phase.

Szerlag says the goal is to have shovels in the ground later this year to begin the project with a projected construction timeline of nine to twelve months to complete.

 

State, City, Developer to share expense for Pine Island Rd/NE 24th traffic signal

A new traffic signal is coming to Pine Island Road.

The city council approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the city and the State of Florida's Department of Transportation (FDOT) that will fund the construction of a traffic signal at the intersection of Pine Island Road and NE 2th Avenue.

The reasoning behind the new traffic signal is the construction of a large-scale development on the northwest quadrant of the intersection that will be home to a 360,000 square foot apartment complex, 131-unit assisted living facility, and 25,000 square feet of retail space.

The cost of the traffic signal is $850,000. Under the agreement, the state will fund the $350,000 cost to install the mast arm traffic signal, pedestrian signals, and crosswalk features on all four sides of the intersection.

In return, the city will be responsible for the funding, design, permitting, and construct roadway improvements related to the construction of the traffic signal.

The timetable of the agreement between the city and FDOT is for five years or the completion of the traffic signal, whichever comes first. No timetable was given as to when the construction of the traffic signal will begin.

In a second item related to the construction of the traffic signal, the city council approved an agreement between the city and the developers of the property, Liberty Health Park, LLC that calls for the two parties to share the cost of the Pine Island Road improvements related to the traffic signal.

According to the agreement, the developer will pay $225,550 for the improvements while the city will be responsible for the remaining $274,450.

The developers have already paid $120,550 toward the improvements, leaving a balance of $105,000.