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Lee Republican Women host county’s mayors
September 11, 2019

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The mayors of all six municipalities in Lee County gathered at the Lee Republican Women Federated September lunch meeting Monday at Pinchers in Fort Myers to rub elbows and touch upon successes they've had and challenges they are facing.

Mayor Anita Cereceda of the Town of Fort Myers Beach, Mayor Bill Ribble of the City of Estero, Mayor Peter Simmons of the City of Bonita Springs, Mayor Randy Henderson of the City of Fort Myers, Mayor Joe Coviello of the City of Cape Coral and Mayor Kevin Ruane of the City of Sanibel were all in attendance.

Amira Fox, state attorney for the Twentieth Judicial Circuit, served as emcee for the panel of mayors during the lunch and discussed hot topic issues and what each leader envisions for the future.

Coviello was asked by Fox to speak about the city's nearly $900 million budget and his plans for the money that is all but finalized by City Council.

"We're zeroing in on our budget and there are some things this year that we're doing that I don't believe have been done in Cape Coral in a long time," Coviello said.

The first, he said, is reducing the millage rate.

This will allow property owners, who saw an 8% increase in property values from last year, to pay the same amount in property taxes as they did just a year ago.

"By going to the rollback rate, that means all the residents whose property values went up, will experience paying the same amount of money on that property rate that they paid last year," said Coviello. "One of the reasons I'm very excited about that is we have not sacrificed any of the public services. In fact, we were able to give our law enforcement a substantial increase in pay."

Coviello touted Cape Coral's standing as one of the safest cities in Southwest Florida, while also being the largest.

"That was one area that as we grow, to be able to attract good, quality law enforcement officers to keep our city safe," Coviello said.

The mayor also spoke of new sidewalks coming to Cape neighborhoods, as the city is looking to hire an extra crew to install sidewalks in areas of the city.

Sidewalks in the city now were installed with grant money that restricted where they could be placed. Funding from the city budget will allow officials to install sidewalks wherever they would like.

"We took about $750,000, we created a third sidewalk group and we're going to be funding that ourselves, which means that we can go put sidewalks where we want to put them, and not be dictated by where the grant says that they're allowed to go," said Coviello. "We're hoping to create more safe zones for our children at the bus stops and keep our city safe and also our children by having more sidewalks inside our city."

The new budget also includes $6.5 million for road paving, Coviello said, and $200,000 for more street lights. That money, he said, could be used to install 400 street lights to help illuminate roads at night.

The biggest issue Coviello sees in the Cape is the Utilities Expansion Project that dates back to the late '90s.

"(The project) is not a lot of fun for the residents, it's costly," said Coviello. "I think this last piece of this program -- we might have done a bigger area than maybe we should have, because it seems to be taking a lot longer and we're going to be addressing that going forward.

"It's messy. It's uncomfortable. And it's probably going on longer than it should."

Despite the length of the time the project has taken, Coviello said a major positive coming from the city's efforts include the elimination of septic tanks in the city.

"We all know our number one priority, I know for most all the natives here, is water quality," Coviello said. "By getting rid of septic tanks, you're only going to help that."

Coviello also noted the blue-green algae or cyanobacteria that filled many of Cape Coral's 400-plus miles of canals.

He pointed out the strength in relationships between all of the mayors in attendance, explaining how he phoned Ruane last year to get some advice on how to handle the situation at hand.

"We do have a Southwest Florida coalition of mayors. We meet approximately quarterly and talk we about things," Coviello said. "Last year, when I was dealt with the harmful algal blooms in our canals, I turned to the mayor that I know has been working on that for 10 years, and I called up my good friend and confidant Mayor Ruane.

"I said, "Give me a crash course on this water quality and what's going on," and within an hour, he kind of worked me up to speed to understand what the issues were."

Coviello said the group as a whole took the South Florida Water Management District "to task" and by grouping together, shared legal feels, easing the financial burden for those specific cities affected by the algae.

Coviello applauded Gov. Ron DeSantis for wiping out the SFWMD board and for taking the Lee County group of mayors as series champions for water quality.

"We're seeing the advantages of that today," Coviello said.

Lastly, Coviello talked of his partnership with Henderson, and that Cape Coral will be buying reclaimed water from Fort Myers via a pipeline along the Caloosahatchee River.

"We're going to bring that water over to Cape Coral, treat it, utilize it in our irrigation system and that's only going to help us," Coviello said.

To end, all mayors were asked if they had to describe their city's biggest need using one word, what would that be?

Coviello said, "Compassion."

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj

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