Ask the Candidates: Fort Myers Beach Town Council

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In preparation for the March 15th election, the Sand Paper is contacting Town Council candidates with a question regarding a topic of interest to Island residents. Their answers are printed here alphabetically. This week’s question:

In the past few months, downtown redevelopment and stormwater utility fees have been much discussed. Other than those two topics, what is one of the top issues facing the Town that you would like to see addressed by Council over the next 1-2 years and how would you like to see it addressed?

Dan Andre’s response:

Due to our infrastructure needs such as storm water management, funding will be a huge issue over the next couple of years. We have a million plus visitors to Fort Myers Beach annually. Future funding will directly affect every resident on Estero Island.

Currently our 6,000 permanent residents pay for the infrastructure for everyone. I believe that if we leverage an additional 1% sales tax for the island, our visitors would be helping to fund future infrastructure thereby greatly relieving some of the financial burden on our local residents. I am currently working with Senator Benacquisto’s office to try to find multiple sponsors for this legislation. I am also working to recruit other small communities with less than 100,000 residents like Destin, New Smyrna Beach and Dunedin who are in the same situation as Fort Myers Beach. I believe that this is a way to significantly reduce our taxes and storm water fees and to help pay for future utilities.

As an aside, Lee County could also impose a sales tax increase. However the revenue collected is allocated according to population. Estero Island would contribute enormously but would receive very little in return. We already have the support of the Florida League of Cities.

Dennis Boback’s response:

There are many issues that need to be addressed. One would be to see the growth of Town Government addressed by Council in the next 1-2 years.

The Town was incorporated based upon the principal of government lite. Today it is government heavy. Bonita Springs has 55 employees. Our Town has 79: 49 full time and 33 part time. When I was mayor I believe we had 22 -25 employees. Today we have more vehicles than we had employees in 2008.

In order to support government growth a previous council added a 10% surcharge on our electric bills. This was supposed to keep our property taxes low. This council increased our property tax by approximately 44%. They are assessing a storm water fee that you can just about bet will end up costing more than the $19.78 they just passed.

People say the Grand Resorts development will be an economic boon to the town. I disagree. Giving away a valuable resource like a beach park is not in anyone’s best interest but the developers.

We must become fiscally responsible and begin an aggressive plan to recapture more of the money generated by our town’s tourism now flowing off island to the county and state. This would relieve the unfair heavy tax burden now on the shoulders of our town’s residents and businesses for maintaining the resources used by our visitors. After all, our town is the number one donor community of sales and bed taxes flowing to the county and state.

Bruce Butcher’s response:

I believe that the next issue to confront Fort Myers Beach is not as important as the character and qualifications of the person facing it. Our town has a number of challenges that we are likely to face; downtown redevelopment and how to develop a plan that works for the people of FMB, not just storm water fees but actually addressing the storm water issue for the island, expediting construction of Estero Boulevard to reduce traffic for our residents and providing streetlights and landscaping for safety, how to reduce the increasing size and cost of our local government and return to government lite, minimizing increased taxes and fees on FMB.

With the host of issues that are likely to come before the town council over the next few years, we have to look beyond what is the next issue, to the person we choose to elect. Who has a proven record of business leadership as well as the community involvement in our town? Who has the leadership and common sense that we need? Who is not afraid to make a decision for our town, looking to the future of Fort Myers Beach not the past? I know that the next issue is not as important as who can we trust to lead our community into the future. I know that I have the leadership and experience to represent our residents and safeguard the future of our community.

 Jack Green’s response:

Let’s expand efforts to protect our natural resources. We can sign onto such initiatives as freshwater discharge mitigation from Lake Okeechobee, or against fracking, but we still rely on various environmental stewards to do the heavy lifting. Council resolutions for various environmental issues are important, but carry little weight when you’re up against the ACOE, Big Sugar or BP. However, we should take a more vocal and proactive stand on issues that effect the natural resources in our backyard, and in turn effect our quality of life. Situated between the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve and the Gulf of Mexico, our slice of paradise needs our best efforts. Currently, the ACOE is discharging millions of gallons of polluted water down the Caloosahatchee River. Our federal and state governments turn a blind eye to our quality of life and economic health in favor of the “Everglades Agricultural Area” (EAA), ostensibly Big Sugar.

We need to think regionally and act locally.

Locally, our efforts have been targeted at storm water management, environmental education and beach patrol. Certainly important and not to be diminished, but we need to seriously look at joining our neighbors to press the federal and state governments to consider our vital interests, not just the EAA.

We can do more and we must do more. The Marine Resources Task Force (MRTF) is our environmental steward and can advise us on policy and where to best expend our resources. Let’s enlist the MRTF to help us sharpen our environmental spear.

Tracey Gore’s response:

Other than the controversial Grand Resorts conceptual presentations and the stormwater plan and fees, a top issue I would like to see addressed by the Council is reviewing the philosophy of “Government Lite” our town was to be governed by.

The Town Council can schedule workshops with the Town Manager and the public to review each Town department, function, budget cost, number of staff and job responsibilities, ways to improve service, increase efficiencies and lighten through attrition, outsourcing, reorganizing and other viable solutions. The Council needs to control and consider reversing the current trend of upsizing our town government.

The point of incorporation with a “Government Lite” philosophy was to establish local control, and as the need for new services increases, the town should attempt to find other private and public groups or agencies to assume those responsibilities, and rely on advisory committees such as the LPA and other volunteer committees. “Government Lite” allows the residents to be a direct part of the decision-making process about our community. By following the processes laid out in our Land Development Codes and using our volunteer committees the way we used to, the residents are more connected, and the goals and visions of the residents are better understood through open public conversations in the Sunshine.

Suzanne Katt’s response:

There are many important issues that should be addressed. Unfortunately, our town has only limited input on some of them. Traffic, water quality and bicycle safety come to mind. But, with regard to an issue, completely under our control, that can be fixed within 1 to 2 years by town council, I would streamline certain services provided to our residents.

For example, if a resident needs a variance for security reasons, it should be expedited. I know of one resident who has homeless people sleeping in his backyard and using his outside shower. He wants to build a fence to prevent strangers from entering his property. Under our current code he must obtain a variance to do so. I would propose that we change our code to provide exceptions for situations in which the safety of our residents is threatened.

In another situation, a resident receives a visit from a code enforcement employee every time we have a heavy rain. Some unknown person calls the town and complains that this resident’s pool is causing the flooding of neighborhood properties. During every visit, the code enforcement officer apologizes and explains that they know his pool is not causing the flooding but they are required to respond to the complaint. I would work to change that rule. If the town employee knows the complaint is inaccurate, the employee should explain to the caller why the visit won’t be made. We want our town employees focused on fixing problems, not chasing illusory ones.

Ber Stevenson’s response:

The issues relating to the Lake Okeechobee discharges into the Caloosahatchee River are numerous and complicated, and need to be addressed immediately.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has named this beautiful river “Canal C-43”, which apparently makes it easier for them to use the River as a storm water and sewer line that feeds directly into the Gulf and ultimately comes via the currents to our pristine beaches, leaving them pristine no more.

We need to push our local, state and federal legislators, and President Obama, to protect our River and our shorelines by purchasing the “sugar” land south of Lake O’ and sending the water south to replenish the drying out and dying Everglades, as was the intent of the voters who approved Florida’s Amendment One.

Any additional management of Lake O’ waters that requires release to the River must be treated to the same standards applied to the water that is currently being fed into the Everglades, a stipulation required by the Miccosukee Indians before water is allowed to be released into the portion of the Everglades under the tribe’s control.

Failure to rectify this problem will result in long-term and costly damage to FMB’s ecosystem and economy, neither of which we as a community can afford to allow.