At their workshop on Monday morning The Town Council of Fort Myers Beach discussed a number of controversial topics including one – the stormwater utility fee – that would be voted on later that day.
During public comment, Mike and Terry Baker spoke to support Audit Committee member Jim Steele’s proposal for limited stormwater improvements.
“We agree the three worst areas need new systems, but the entire island doesn’t,” Terry said. “This would also allow the Town to clean out our drainage and swales.”
Edie Foster asked why a bulldozer was allowed on the beach last Thursday to scrape up a bunch of king conchs, shells and seaweed from the wrack line.
“This utterly destroyed the wrack line, which protects the beach,” she said. “Someone broke the law here. We fought the rape of the beach in the 90’s and beyond and I thought we were done here.”
Mark McConnell, lifelong resident of Bayland Avenue, read a letter from one of his neighbors opposing any improvements to the Town-owned Right of Way on his street, saying that most Bayland residents agree.
“There are many parks for people to go to, we do not want this intrusion,” the letter read.
Council also heard from Michael Ciccarone, an attorney representing the Estero Bay Improvement Association (EBIA) who said the simplest way for Council to deal with the Bay Beach properties (in relation to the stormwater utility) would be to draft a resolution that would pull them out of the program completely.
Former Mayor Dan Hughes said he totally concurs with the Ciccarone.
“This ordinance, 15-08, may be one of the worst I’ve ever encountered,” he said. “There are so many inconsistencies. Other areas – such as Snug Harbor – that don’t contribute to the Town’s stormwater should also be exempt.”
Mayor Anita Cereceda asked if Council could agree to adopt the fee today but amend the ordinance later, and Town Attorney Dawn Lehnert said yes.
Councilman Alan Mandel said he believes there needs to be an agreement with the Town and the residents of EBIA.
“As far as the rest of it, we have been looking at this for a number of years,” he said. “There’s no question that the runoff into the back bay causes concern. We need to take care of our water. The county will be paying to take care of its own system. To get to the bottom of this – the difference between $26.50 and $19.98/month is not much.”
Councilwoman Rexann Hosafros agreed there are some ‘glitches’ in the ordinance.
“On the other hand, we have to get a fee in place to take care of the debt – this has gone on way too long,” she said. “To correct some wrong impressions – Jim Steele does not work for the Town, though he has been very generous with us with his time. Lastly, there are more than three problem areas – my street has a problem, the street next to me has a problem, I get emails from people all over the island begging for help. We need to address this on an island-wide basis.”
Vice-Mayor Dan Andre said he likes the idea of separating a basic fee for the utility from administrative costs.
“I’d be in favor right now of setting a fee right now to take care of the debt and the maintenance and wait until March for the rest to see what happens to the charter amendment,” he said, and Councilwoman Summer Stockton agreed.
Cereceda said she’d like to see an ordinance that accurately reflects the needs of all the residents.
“I have a concern that we’ve advertised the rate and not the administrative fee,” she said. “The rate would be what will benefit the properties, and I absolutely agree that Bay Beach should be removed from that. The particulars won’t be known until the facilities plan is complete.”
Public Works Director Scott Baker said there are no funds for maintenance currently in the budget.
The mayor explained that the proposed $26.50 per ESU does not touch the ‘every street on the island’ approach, something that will become clear once the facilities plan is complete in about 3 months.
“That plan breaks down everything – swales, drainage – back to the 1900’s, for the entire island,” Baker said.
Bay Oaks Review
“Last year, Council asked us to review Bay Oaks’ costs,” said Town Administrative Services Director Maureen Rischitelli. “The pool was put forth in 1999 as a grass roots initiative, and in 2009, the town acquired the Bay Oaks property from the county. The school board also owns part of the land over there. I reviewed the 5-year plan, and you are now at the same place you were in 2009.”
Parks and Recreation Director Randy Norton said both the teen and youth programs have seen a rise and fall over the years, with the after school program and summer camp are now at capacity.
Andre asked Randy what his three biggest needs are.
“One, a gym floor; two would be maintenance; three, a bigger advertising budget,” Norton replied. “One of the most requested needs is additional space for seniors.”
Dan suggested asking residents if they’d like to contribute more of their ad valorem taxes to fund Bay Oaks. Mandel asked – if such a referendum passed – could that be locked into the budget as a line item for, say, 20 years. Town Manager Don Stilwell replied yes – so long as it went into a dedicated fund and not the general fund.
Hosafros asked Randy to tell his employees to stop spreading the rumor that that pool and/or Bay Oaks is going to close.
“I also would like to know why an organization such as ‘Friends of Bay Oaks’ have never happened,” she said. “And the fees for programs need to be raised to get more income flow.”
Mandel said it comes down to who wants to use Bay Oaks.
“At that time, we agreed to make every resident a member and we went from 300 to 2,600 members,” he said. “I think a good number to shoot for is to have residents cover a third of the cost, so I agree with Dan.”
Cereceda said she’d like to spend an afternoon having a round table discussion where Council and staff could hammer out – line item by line item – a plan for Bay Oaks. The rest of Council agreed.
“Back when we first discussed the pool, a man named Harry Gottlieb told me if the town wanted it’s young families to thrive, then we need to offer things like Bay Oaks and the pool,” the mayor said. “I would just like to see it managed better.”
Bay Access Improvements
Baker said that the Community Resources Advisory Board (CRAB) has worked on both bay and beach access improvements for years. Andre took responsibility for this, saying he asked CRAB to look into ‘cleaning up the edges’ of the town.
Administrative Specialist Chelsea O’Riley went through a series of slides depicting the Town’s ROW on all bayside streets, and what could possibly be put there.
“Big picture – do we want bay access improvements?” she said.
Cereceda said she’d like improvements in the designated downtown area only (Virginia Street north) with the exception of Amberjack – where Council liked the idea of erecting a fishing pier to offset the dangerous use of the Big Carlos Pass bridge – and the replacement of the dock at Hercules. Andre said the only intent was to clean up the ROWs.
“For those who want a private pier, maybe we could just sell the ROW to the residents and they can pay and take care of it,” he said. Mandel agreed with the mayor and Andre, saying the sale could be accompanied by a maintenance agreement.
TDC Funding Requests
“Portable restrooms should be permanently deleted and a request for reallocating of funding for them made,” Cereceda said.
Baker reported that the County Attorney opined that the TDC would likely not allow the reallocation of funding for a new dock on Hercules, and Council agreed to go before the board to make a formal request.
Mandel pointed out that the proposed shower/fountain is only a pole, that it would be used mainly by residents and that no complaints have been made about the ones that already exist at Palm Avenue and Newton Park. Council – with the exception of the mayor – also agreed that shade structures should be included, based on the size of the accesses, and to add in the Marine Resources Task Force’s recommandation for interpretive signage.
Keri Hendry Weeg