Punta Gorda looks at charter amendments

The following editorial was published in The Daily Sun on Nov 3, 2022.

OUR POSITION: Voters will be asked to approve amendments to the Punta Gorda City Charter.

Punta Gorda voters have an opportunity through early voting and at the poll Tuesday to pass amendments to the city charter the city’s Charter Review Committee believes is needed.

None of the questions on the ballot appear controversial to us. The biggest changes would be to extend the term of City Council member to four years and give its members a raise in salary.

Here is a look at each item:

Extending the term of City Council members to four years

We’re in favor of this idea. Council members often relate about how two years is barely enough time to get comfortable and learn the ropes about how city government operates. Unless someone has an exceptional grasp on city government when elected, there are normally bumps in the road to getting their agenda in front of other council members and the public. Few campaign promises can be carried out in months.

Raising the pay for council members

City Council members make about $13,900 and the mayor slightly more at $15,665. CRC members spent time looking at salaries of council members in similar-sized cities and also compared them to the Charlotte County commissioners, who make about $73,000 a year.

Like most elected positions, the job of a City Council member is no longer limited to a twice-a-month meeting and a few hours looking over project plans and talking to citizens. It is nearly a full-time job and the compensation should reflect that.

The referendum will call for raises of 35% for council members and 30% for the mayor of what county commissioners make. That would be in the neighborhood of $25,500 for the mayor and $22,000 for council members.

Changing dates for City Council elections

This has long been an issue with us and others who disapprove of the added cost of city elections. Punta Gorda has City Council elections in odd years, requiring special preparations and costing taxpayers. The ballot question would move elections to November in even numbered years. To do so, however, would require a one-time extension of a term or two until 2024.

Clarifying the charter

The fourth ballot amendment asks shall Article I, Section 1, Article III, Section 7, Article XVI, and Article XVII, Section 6 of the Charter, be amended to remove misleading, obsolete, and internally conflicting language. These non-substantive provisions have been identified historically by the city clerk as necessary to clarify the charter.

Ad Valorem Tax Exemption

Finally, residents will consider giving City Council authority to grant economic development exemptions. The Ad Valorem Tax Exemption is an economic development incentive tool made available to cities through the Florida Constitution that the city’s voters must approve. It encourages new commercial development and expansion of existing businesses within the city, which will generate new ad valorem taxes and create new job opportunities. The city previously had this program in place until 2020. City Council used the program to offer a tax rebate program to property owners who voluntarily annex into the city.

The program provided a rebate of 50% of the city-portion of the tax bill for two years.

There is nothing in any of these amendments that would create any hardship on voters that we can see. The raise in salaries is minor and past due. The changes in election dates just makes common sense. The potential tax exemption for businesses that want to annex into the city is a good business decision.

We recommend voting “yes” on all five questions.