CAPE CORAL, Fla. - Cape Coral and its public safety unions are at a budget standoff, leading the city to explore other options to balance the budget. Mayor John Sullivan says that means everything from layoffs, to salary cuts, and privatization are possibilities.
"As far as I'm concerned, everything is on the table," Sullivan says.
The mayor has already line-item vetoed both police and fire department budgets for next fiscal year.
Mark Muerth, head of Cape Coral's fire union, says outsourcing the city's law enforcement and fire protection services would not be in the public's interest, calling the idea "irresponsible."
"Private companies are for profit. They have revolving doors with employees. They don't really know the area, and they don't have the community ties," says Muerth.
With the deadline to balance the city's budget less than a month away, Mayor Sullivan says the city has to consider anything that will rein in each department's spending.
Muerth doubts privatization will work, pointing to other communities' failed attempts to do so.
"It's never been successful, it always reverts back into the government control," Muerth says.
Such was the case for Estero, which outsourced its fire protection in 1997 through a firm formally known as Wackenhut Corporation.
Dick Schweers, chairman of the Estero Fire Board of Commissioners, took office after the decision and remembers when the previous board fired its 11 firefighters and replaced them with Wackenhut employees.
Schweers says the move backfired, and 8 months later, the community reinstated the original department.
"It didn't work because of the way it was handled," Schweers says, noting the change was abrupt, and for most of the firefighters, without warning.
Wackenhut, which has since changed its name to G4S Security Solutions, says it has had no "active communication" with Cape Coral requesting services.
Mayor Sullivan also mentioned possibly relying solely on Lee County deputies for the city's law enforcement needs.
Sheriff Mike Scott says the mayor broached the subject with him last week. However, with the department's budget close to being finalized, the timing isn't right to start finding the resources to do that, Scott says.