Council Addresses Stormwater Fees and Hercules Dock

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    Residents of Hercules Street who have been upset since their bayside dock was torn down recently may get a new one after the Town Council of Fort Myers Beach asked Town staff to look into reallocating Tourist Development Council funding to pay for that construction at their workshop on Monday morning. Council also decided to seek more information about the  controversial fee that would fund the Town’s long-needed stormwater utility.

    Special Projects Hire

    Council agreed to ask staff to return with a proposal for the hiring of a special projects coordinator to help them with large projects like the Grand Resorts project and expedite the Town’s permitting process.

    “As a small community we’re not prepared to handle dealing with a large project like the proposed downtown redevelopment,” Town Manager Don Stilwell said.

    Councilwoman Rexann Hosafros pointed out that the person would be an independent contractor, not an employee. “This person would also help us address our problems with getting permits done quicker,” she said.

    Councilwoman Summer Stockton wanted to know where the money was going to come from to pay for the consultant, and Stilwell said ‘somewhere else’. “We’ll have to go through the budget…and determine what to cut out,” said Administrative Services Director Maureen Rischitelli. “This person would go to the county, FEMA and DEP, to make sure the Town’s best interests are met.”

    Mayor Anita Cereceda said the Town needs their own spokesperson, one who has ‘nothing to do with the county’.

    “This is of paramount importance to us – someone told me the other day ‘you’ve got one shot to prove your not incompetent – don’t blow it’, and I don’t intend to,” she said. “We need to lead the effort, not respond to it, and we need to have the staff available to answer our questions regarding seawall, etc. I also don’t think we should take one more step – not one – until this person is on board with the Town.”

    Stormwater Utility

    During public comment, Tom Babcock said he agrees that the Town needs a stormwater utility and that he doesn’t have an issue paying for it, so long as the fees are assessed fairly.

    Bay Beach Lane resident Charles Eck spoke next, saying the reason EBIA purchased the former golf course was to manage the neighborhood’s storm water. “That property completely takes care of and treats all of our storm water,” he said. “We should not have to participate in the Town’s utility.”

    Rischitelli said she looked at studies that have been done and has provided Council with a sheaf of documents covering various funding options.

    “We already have stormwater operations in the ground, and we have been funding the maintenance of those to the tune of $50,000/year, coming from the general fund,” she said. “The current estimate for operations and maintenance (O&M) for the Fiscal Year 2015/2016 is $100,000 for maintenance of the existing infrastructure, $400,000 for a vactor truck and $150,000 for general administrative expenses – totaling $650,000. We’ve also already spent $2,035,742 on stormwater costs for north Estero, and that appears as a negative balance on the budget.”

    She explained that staff’s proposal to charge $26.50 per ESU would provide the Town with an estimated $1.1 million between February and September 30, 2016.

    Rischitelli said there are many different variables in this project, and pointed out that funding from FEMA requires a 25% match, and that they determine how much they will repay, adding that they only paid 10% for stormwater improvements to the basin-based neighborhoods.”

    She continued by saying that she has asked the director of FEMA to come speak with Council about funding not just stormwater, but other projects.

    “The next step is to get from Council what other information you want, but I do recommend that we deal with the debt we have by creating a stormwater utility because when other funding mechanisms open up, they like to see that we have a utility in place to deal with the issue,” she concluded.

    Jim Steele from the Audit Committee – who has been working with the Town on the stormwater utility – said that Council needs to determine what level of service they want before they can set a fee. “One option would be to charge an average of $19.50/month, which would cover the debt for north Estero for two years and provide enough money to pay for the maintenance for two years.”

    Mandel said the point is to coordinate stormwater with potable water and the road replacement so as not to tear up roads twice.

    Baker said that a facilities plan needs to be done first – something that would take several months.

    Cereceda said she doesn’t believe that Council has all the information they need right now to make future plans.

    Rischitelli said she’d work up proposals based on average of $19.50 and $26 and return to Council at the next meeting.

    Hercules Dock

    Hosafros then reported on a meeting she’d attended with the residents of both Hercules and Coconut (who also had their dock torn down recently), and it appears to her that the people from different streets want different things.

    Baker introduced Mark Kincaid from Coastal Engineering Services as the Town’s ‘go to engineer’ for all waterfront properties. He informed the Council that the cost to replace the dock would be $90,900. Baker said the Town currently has a little over $1.6 million in funds from the TDC, money the Town could request to be reallocated – something which would take about 2 months.

    Council agreed to move forward with seeking TDC money for the Hercules dock only, and scheduled a workshop for all public accesses for their first meeting in February.

    Keri Hendry Weeg