Water/Stormwater May Increase
While the bulk of the Fort Myers Beach Town Council Meeting on Monday, June 15, revolved around the Bayside Park Redevelopment Plan that was not even an agenda item, the panel decided several other major issues including setting the Fiscal Year 2020-21 Ad Valorem TRIM (Truth In Millage) Rate, discussing increases to the Town’s water and stormwater bills, and examining a potential Bay Oaks Recreational Center redesign. For information on the Bayside Park discussion, see the separate article in this issue of the Island Sand Paper.
During a discussion of the tentative TRIM tax rate, Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros noticed a significant typographical error in their packet. Council intended the Ad Valorem Millage Rate “to be the current 0.95 mills, not the old 0.87. At this point, we can’t go up; we can only go down so we should go with 0.95.” Council member Jim Atterholt clarified, “The proposed millage we agree to today as the cap is the same as last year; this is not an increase,” with Town Manager Roger Hernstadt saying, “That is correct.’ Atterholt noted that if property values go up, the Town may receive additional moneys from the same tax rate, with Hernstadt estimating a $40,000 increase. Hernstadt reminded Council that per State of Florida law, their two September Budget Hearings can begin no earlier than 5 p.m., with Council unanimously approving the 0.95 TRIM rate.
Water & Stormwater Rates
Under an agenda item regarding review of the Water & Stormwater Rate Study and proposed rate adjustments, Atterholt recalled that the recommended “Cost of Services” water rate increase for next year was 4.5% but now calls for 7%. Hernstadt replied that it would begin at 7% and fall to 3% over the next five years, averaging 4.5% “to help with cash flow.”
Costs will increase in conjunction with consumer consumption and addresses the Town’s cash flow need for its State Revolving Fund water-related loan reimbursement. Council learned the Town’s three biggest water users are the DiamondHead Resort, Estero Beach & Tennis Club and Lani Kai Island Resort. Atterholt inquired if the Town will review the “Cost of Services” study annually, with Hernstadt stating, “We typically do it every third year, unless we are becoming concerned, but I do not anticipate having a big surprise.” The water rate increase for Fiscal Year 2021 will be 7%, with increases falling to 6% in FY 2022, 3.5% in FY 2023; and 3% in FY 2024 & 25.
Council plans to increase monthly stormwater rates from the current $19.98 per Equivalent Residential Unit (ERU) to $25.98 in Fiscal Year 2021 – a 30% increase, $31.98 in FY2022, and $37.64 in FY2023 to pay all stormwater expenditures, including maintenance. “So the Town will no longer have to utilize the General Fund and Gas Tax to subsidize the Stormwater Fund?” asked Atterholt, with Hernstadt replying in the affirmative. “Do you have your direction?” asked Mayor Ray Murphy, with Hernstadt stating “We will have staff proceed with rate payer notifications as to the changes. We will have public hearings to receive input and then you will vote to proceed or not or modify them.” Town Attorney John Herin, Jr., who participated virtually, will prepare an Ordinance for the August 3 Council Meeting that will automatically pass on any Lee County Water Rate increases to Town residents, with Atterholt pointing out, “60% of the water utility cost is to purchase bulk water from Lee County.”
Bay Oaks Redesign
Under a discussion on whether to proceed with an order for a 30% design for Bay Oaks renovation at a cost of $47,810 to DRMP, Inc., Council reviewed the initial draft of the potential Bay Oaks Recreation Center redesign. Atterholt recalled that the previous Town Council “had considerable debate about a building right off Estero Boulevard and thought they decided against it, but I see a building there.” Council member Dan Allers, a former Bay Oaks Recreational Center Advisory Board (BORCAB) member, replied, “There was a lot of talk back-&-forth to have or not have it, or to put an entrance there.” He confirmed this initial design includes replacing the current gymnasium, along with baseball and soccer fields, nature trail, amphitheater and specific amenities for the Beach Elementary School, such as an outdoor classroom. There will be parking for about 200 vehicles.
Atterholt said he hopes this potential Estero Boulevard building will not duplicate community services, “with the Fort Myers Beach Public Library just a stone’s throw away.” Council member Bill Veach opined that a common Bay Oaks complaint is that “no one knows that it is back there; that its tiny Estero Boulevard walkway opens up into that vast area, so that property had a two-way purpose: keep it open for visibility or bring Bay Oaks out onto the street, so it serves a purpose.” Hosafros said the prospective building “is a blend of those so I favor it; you found a way to do both!” Hernstadt reminded the council, “This is the concept, not the final plan, so the community will better understand this once we have the 30% design plan,” with Council unanimously approving the allocation.
In other matters, Council heard a BORCAB update; unanimously affirmed staff’s recommendation to hire The Corradino Group to update the Town’s Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code; approved a Resolution to amend Town Council Policies & Procedures Manual on the evaluation process for the Town Manager and Town Attorney; and approved replacement of a 15-passenger van at a cost of $39,525.
During Town Attorney Items, Herin provided Council with an upbeat update of the June 9 Margaritaville Resort oral arguments before the 2nd District Court and received Council approval to evict a vacant boat from the Town Mooring Field.
Unless emergency conditions dictate, Council will be on summer hiatus until its next meeting on Monday, August 3 and its Management & Planning Session on Thursday, August 6, each at 9 a.m.