Irma Forces Shortened Session
With Hurricane Irma on the immediate horizon, many islanders still needing to make last-minute preparations, and an island evacuation in play the following morning at 9 a.m., the Town of Fort Myers Beach Council held an abbreviated session on Thursday evening, September 7, focusing on the 2017-18 Budget and items pertaining to Segments 2 & 3 of the reFRESH Estero Boulevard Projects. Near the end of the session, however, with every minute crucial, Council surprisingly took an additional half-hour to vigorously debate a seemingly non-essential item pertaining to Cella Molnar & Associates. Council member Joanne Shamp was on an excused absence.
Under Public Hearings, Council unanimously moved to set the Town’s 2017-18 Ad Valorem Tax rate to 0.8700 mill, up for the current 0.8000 mill, forwarding this for final approval at the Final Public Hearing at its next meeting on Thursday, September 21, at 6:30 p.m. This means for each $1,000 valuation of your home, you pay the Town 87 cents; on a $300,000 house this is an increase from $240 to $261.
It took a similar unanimous vote to forward to September 21 for final action the Town’s “Operating Fee Schedule and Capital Budget.” Town Manager Roger Hernstadt noted this will raise the cost of the Town’s parking meters from $2 to $3 per hour, beginning October 1. “I do have some good news,” he said. “Our water rate consultant informs us we only need to implement a 5% increase to stormwater rather than the contemplated 7%. The project is behind schedule, therefore we are spending money slower and not incurring that large a debt, so that is the reason.”
Council deemed the next two Public Hearing topics concerning Newsracks and Plastic Straws as non-essential at this time, postponing their final hearings until Monday, October 16, at 9 a.m.
Under Administrative Agenda, Council unanimously approved a Stormwater Maintenance and Repair Contract with the Shenandoah Construction Company not to exceed $88,717. Council next unanimously approved a Water & Stormwater Improvements agreement for $3,920,682 to Mitchell & Stark to construct the final four stormwater outfalls in Segment 2, on Bay Road, Bay Mar Drive, Donora Road and Hercules Drive.
Under Segment 3 Joint Outfall Streets, Council considered allocating $142,940 for construction engineering, construction oversight and public information outreach for the proposed 8 outfalls in Segment 3, and this is where Hurricane Stress perhaps reared its ugly head! The Town Manager suggested limited funding to Cella Molnar & Associates rather than their requested upfront full payment.
“What is most important to me,” said Council member Anita Cereceda, “is we are moving forward with all the assurance that the community outreach remains the same as for the earlier portions of the projects. Hercules is an example: we turned a bad situation good because of outreach. My concern is we move forward in the exact same way, street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood, and not change that.”
“$95,000 is for community outreach,” countered the Town Manager. “When I looked at that, it leaped out at me and hit me between the eyes; I suggest we cut that back for now, as it is equal to what we will spend on engineering. Let’s start with a lower number, and supplement that if we need more.”
“The most important thing is the constant contact,” countered Cereceda. “Every single person receives updates on almost a daily basis and it is super important to them. They are not interested in engineering, but want to know what is happening in simple plain talk. I hear this every time I walk my dog.”
“The neighborhood meetings are what really helped,” said Vice Mayor Tracey Gore, “so I am OK with that cut. I rely on Roger’s expertise of 20 years in Public Works – this is what he does.” “I am good with the stopgap,” added Mayor Dennis Boback. “If I find we need more money,” added the Town Manager, “I will be the first one to come to you and say that.” “We will give the public what they want,” stated Council member Bruce Butcher, “and I am sure you will do that. I am good with what Roger is suggesting.”
“The next group of residents will get something different than previous groups,” Cereceda stated when addressing the $75,000 cut. “This group of streets will get less service than the first ones – I feel very strongly about this. If we do not trust Cella Molnar & Associates to do that job, then we should just not have them. You are potentially lowering the service for the next eight streets.” “I do not agree,” said Gore with Cereceda replying, “I am sure you don’t!” “I did not expect this to be so contentious,” stated the Town Manager.
Following this, Council approved $142,940 for construction engineering and construction oversight, including the reduced amount of $20,000 for public information 3 to 1, with Cereceda Against.
Never Been Another Like It!
Council then deferred the remaining Administrative Agenda items – Special Event Permits to Paint the Beach; the Island Hopper Songwriter’s Fest for Nervous Nellie’s; the Nervous Nellie’s Pirate Fest related request; and Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce Pirate Fest, to September 21.
During Council Member Items, Cereceda made a motion to allow the new Fish Tale Marina Restaurant to proceed with its planning and opening, without Council waiting for the approved Minutes from the Local Planning Agency (LPA), as Hurricane Irma forced the cancelation of that group’s September meeting. Gore noted the LPA unanimously approved the Fish Tale request, saying “I am OK with this,” and Council unanimously granted its approval.
Gore noted she “has many friends and acquaintances all over this island, so I ask you all to please, please heed warnings about this storm and take them seriously, because there has never been another like it!” Mayor Boback echoed that, saying to the Town Manager: “What the staff did is magnificent, working hard under your tutelage. I appreciate that, and know everybody does!” With that, Council adjourned.
Caption: Town Council addresses the 2017-18 Budget and stormwater issues.