Cape police target pot, porn in ’07
Budget seeks 40 more officers to track grow houses, perverts

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Cape Coral is on track to become the state’s marijuana grow-house capital, a police captain said Wednesday while explaining the need for 40 more officers in the 2007 city budget.

So far this year the city has located 34 houses devoted to growing marijuana and may reach 60 this year, Capt. Bill Rivers said during the workshop for the department’s 2007 budget. Last year there were 23 cases.

"We anticipate we are going to become the number one location in the state," Rivers said.

The city is taking an aggressive stance by forwarding the cases to the U.S attorney for prosecution and for seizing the properties involved.

"We take their house. We take their cars," Rivers said. "If they come into Cape Coral we’re going to take them for everything they own."

Police also are recovering more guns, finding automatics and AK-47s along with the marijuana plants.

Rivers said the department also wants to devote more resources to tracking down predators who use the Internet to find children.

More than 1,000 computers in the city have been identified as being used to download child porn or entrap children, Rivers said.

The council agreed to fund the department’s $37.4 million budget request, and may even spend more to increase the search for sexual predators.

"I agree with everything you’re doing. I think there are a lot more out there," Councilman Tim Day said.

Day is a former policeman and he sponsored ordinances that require the city to notify residents of sexual predators living near them and controlling where sexual predators can live in Cape Coral. The public wants to see more law enforcement, Day said.

Grow houses are easier to find thanks to the public, said Councilwoman Dolores Bertolini.

"People are noting what’s going on around them and feeling free enough to call us," she said.

The council reviewed all of the departmental budgets proposed for 2007.

The group trimmed about $356,000 from the proposed $188.5 million general fund budget and supplemental requests. Most of that came from four positions, including an assistant director, requested by the human resources department. The council also shifted $675,000 for a wall separating the Everest Parkway public works compound from the neighborhood to the paving budget.

Supplemental requests are additions beyond what is needed to maintain the same level of service as last year. The additional sworn officers is an example of a supplemental request.

All of the decisions Wednesday are tentative and could be changed before the budget is adopted. Public hearings on the budget are scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Sept. 6 and Sept. 20. The council is expected to approve the budget after the second public hearing.

The city’s budget year begins on Oct. 1.

City Manager Terry Stewart warned the council at the start of the review to be aware of the impact of the city’s changing economy on the budget.

"Regardless what the tax revenues are next year, you’re still going to have growth issues for years to come," Stewart said.

The city’s taxable property value went up 53 percent this year.

"If we get a five or 10 percent increase in property values next year I would feel very fortunate," Stewart said.

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