Town Tax Hike, 2020 Budget Approved
The Town Council of Fort Myers Beach held two meetings on Monday, September 23, with the morning session heavily dominated by Roar Offshore Powerboat Race items, where they voted unanimously to issue the permit to allow events from Thursday, October 10 through Saturday, October 12. The evening forum concentrated primarily on approving the Town’s Fiscal Year 2019-20 Ad Valorem Tax Rate and Budget. Both meetings had sparse attendance.
Ad Valorem Tax Increase
During discussion on setting the Town’s tax rate for 2019-2020, Council debated a potential increase from the current 0.87 to a proposed 0.95 mills that equates to 95 cents per $1,000 of property valuation. Mayor Anita Cereceda, who returned from a trip to chair the evening session, asked Council member Joanne Shamp, the only person to vote against the proposed tax increase during previous hearings, to begin. Shamp laughed, stating, “I am happy to start, to get the party started! The 0.95 millage rate is a 12.3% increase and is fiscally irresponsible to fund a future project we have yet to identify. The Town is in exceptional financial position with 17% of its funding in reserves, and that is right in line with the recommendation from the Florida League of Cities, so I cannot approve of this increase, as the current 0.87 mills funds our balanced budget as well as an exciting Add On List and everything on our Wish List. I see absolutely no need to take people’s money and store it away, when we already have plenty of reserves.”
Council member Rexann Hosafros, however, countered, “My position has not changed, and I differ from Joanne. We have many exciting projects moving forward, so we need to save money rather than borrowing it.” Vice Mayor Ray Murphy added, “I am in favor of the increase, though I understand what you are saying, Joanne. I am not sure the Florida League of Cities percentages pertain to our situation as a barrier island, as we cannot have enough reserves in a catastrophe. Many people in the Town want these projects and what I am hearing is that they support this increase.”
Council member Bruce Butcher said, “I pretty much agree with Ray; you cannot have enough money set aside. We have needs in Times Square and Bay Oaks and Estero Boulevard lighting and Heart Of The Island and more. I learned at a recent Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting that it costs $750,000 for just one mile of new sidewalk, so there are no small projects. If you don’t save money, you end up putting these things off year after year after year, so I am for it.” Mayor Cereceda stated, “I did not sleep well last night, as this was one of the things on my mind. Joanne, you make a valid argument that other people share, but from the first time I was reelected in 2014, and in every budget cycle since, I made it clear our tax rate is too low for all this Town provides, so I support the increased rate, to allow the Town to make bigger and bolder decisions to upgrade our community.”
In the subsequent “Public Comment,” only one citizen spoke and she supported the tax increase. Council then approved the 0.95 mills 4 to 1, with Shamp Against.
The next agenda item was the Town’s Budget for the Fiscal Year 2019 – 2020. Town Manager Roger Hernstadt stated, “There are two minor changes to the Budget from the First Hearing I want to call to your attention: we included the Maritime Grant and refined the numbers from the Property Appraiser, so this increased it by roughly $28,000: from $20,333,660 to $20,361,610.”
Council then debated several changes or additions to the draft Budget, including Impact Fees, Times Square Merchants Association Sunset Celebration Fees Schedule, Street Performer Fees Schedule, Public Information funding, an increase to the Beach And Street Enforcement (BASE) Department to provide additional coverage for In Season night and evening Noise Ordinance enforcement, and a lengthy discussion over the Town’s intent to pull money from its General Fund to pay for stormwater maintenance shortfalls unfunded by its Stormwater Utility Fee. Council opted to not make any changes and unanimously passed the Town’s $20,361,610 Budget.
Council then unanimously approved a 7% increase in water rates to continue to phase in rates necessary to fund the Town’s Water Improvement Program. Finally, in an item not on the Agenda, Council unanimously approved a lawsuit settlement involving the two uncompleted structures just south of the Junkanoo On The Beach Restaurant. The developers agreed to modify the unit that crosses the Coast Construction Control Line while the Town will allow them to retain both on the one parcel. Council adjourned at 7:35 p.m.
Let It Roar!
During the morning meeting, Vice Mayor Murphy chaired, with Cereceda participating via telephone, while waiting to board an airplane.
Under a discussion about the Roar Offshore Permit application, Hernstadt stated that Roar Offshore organizers will contract waste management services through the Town and provide enough port-a-potties to accommodate the roughly 70,000 fans it anticipates will attend the three-day powerboat race and related activities, satisfying Council’s previous concerns. “While they still need other permits, like from the United States Coast Guard and Fort Myers Beach Fire Department, the Town is the first domino in that process,” explained Hernstadt. “We are rapidly approaching that point where they really need us to trip that first domino, so that is where we are.” Roar Offshore President Tim Hill added, “We arranged for 500% more port-a-potties than at any other powerboat race ever in Florida!”
“You stepped up and got this thoroughly done,” said Shamp. Various Council members voiced concerns about how race organizers will limit alcoholic beverages to the downtown area during Thursday evening’s “Street Party,” and refused the Roar Offshore request to waive Town Permit, Parking & Public Works Fees totaling $7,620.
Murphy then stated, “We are happy to provide you your first permit,” with Council unanimously voting approval.
Water, Contracts & More
In other matters, Council heard from Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane in his role as President of the Florida League of Mayors on Water Quality, before unanimously approving his request to adopt that group’s Water Quality legislative priority list.
Under their Consent Agenda, Council unanimously approved a $6,083,000 loan agreement with the Florida State Revolving Loan Program for the Estero Boulevard Phase 3B Drinking Water Project, and a Special Event Permit Extension to the Times Square Merchants Association to hold a Sunset Celebration Concert on Thursday, October 10 for Roar Offshore. Council pulled five Consent Agenda Items for additional discussion, but in rapid order unanimously approved a $35,000 contract renewal to Host Compliance of San Francisco to assist the Town in monitoring Short Term Rental information; along with Extension of Alcohol Special Event Permits for Roar Offshore events at the Shamrock Irish Pub, DiamondHead Resort and Nervous Nellie’s.
The final item took time, as Hosafros still found potential contracts for Town Finance Director Robert Lange, Project Manager Wayne Flickinger, Code Enforcement Manager Daphne Bercher and Senior Accountant Andre Heiting incomplete. Hernstadt made arrangements to finalize the paperwork as the Council Meeting continued, then several hours later Council reviewed and unanimously approved these.
Council held two Final Public Hearings and unanimously approved both. Changes to the Elevated Pool Ordinance will now require all pools 4 feet or more above grade to meet principle structure setbacks. They also approved an Elections Ordinance moving the qualifying dates for the March 17, 2020 Town Council election to noon, January 6 to noon, January 10, 2020.
Under Administrative Agenda Items, in addition to approving the Roar Offshore Permit, Council unanimously approved the Street Performer Denial Appeal of Caricature Artist Chester Rogers to continue his drawings outside The Surf Club as well as waiving his $150 permit fee; voted 4 to 1 with Butcher Against for an Extension of Alcohol Premises Permit for Junkanoos on The Beach for Roar Offshore; unanimously approved the Extension of Alcohol Premises Permit for the Sunset Beach Tropical Grill for the Roar Offshore but denied their request to expand activities to its adjacent parking lot; and unanimously approved an Interlocal Agreement between the Town and Lee County for a Crescent Street & Estero Boulevard traffic signal; an Interlocal Agreement between the Town and Lee County for Estero Boulevard Sidewalk Maintenance in association with the Margaritaville FMB Resort; an Indemnification Agreement between the Town and Margaritaville for sidewalk maintenance on their property; and authorized the Town Manager to execute a contract with Angie Brewer & Associates to perform compliance activities required by the State Revolving Loan Fund for the Phase 4 Side Streets Project.
By Gary Mooney