CAPE CORAL, Fla.- The City of Cape Coral is now free to use nearly $24 million in taxpayer money that’s been held up in a court battle.
Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the controversial fire assessment fee that the city has been collecting from homeowners for years.
Cape Coral is calling the ruling a major victory. The city has a lot more money to work with and plans to use it to make improvements.
“We want to stress that this not something new the residents have to write a check for. They’ve been paying this for the past two years, we have not just been spending it,” said City Manager John Szerlag.
Cape Coral spent more than $250,000 in taxpayer money fighting the lawsuit. Homeowners argued the fee was illegal and wanted their money back.
“I think it’s an open checkbook for the City of Cape Coral to do whatever they want,” said resident Jay LaGace. “I’m gonna plan on doing whatever it takes to repeal it, and I think a big to-do is going to be this upcoming election.”
The fee costs the average homeowner about $110. It goes towards funding the city’s fire department, money that’s normally taken from the general budget. Thursday’s ruling means $23.6 million is now freed up.
“We can now begin to purchase capital projects, equipment that was previously approved by mayor and council, with the confidence that the community will enjoy the benefits,” said Szerlag.
The city says it plans to use the extra money to improve roads, repair old buildings and buy new vehicles for the police and fire departments.
That’s not the only benefit residents could see. The city says because the fire assessment has been ruled legal, the council plans to grant homeowners a slight decrease in property taxes.
Scott Morris, the attorney representing homeowners fighting the fee, says he has 10 days to submit a motion for a rehearing, but has not yet decided if he will.