Council Telegraphs Stormwater Vote

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    The Long Day Begins

    The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council met for its workshop on Monday, December 19, in Chambers at 2 p.m., beginning a marathon day that would approach midnight.

    In Public Comments, Michael Ciccarone, attorney for the Ostego Bay Improvement Association and its 1,200 Bay Beach unit owners, urged Council when considering its Stormwater Ordinance that evening to adopt language that “exempts my clients – Period! Since it has its own stormwater system, why force this on Bay Beach? Why charge us if we do not use or contribute any water to your system?”

    Mike Baker reminded Council that in January 2016, “over 300 residents stormed Chambers to say ‘No’ to the $33 million ‘Cadillac’ system. We agreed to the $19.98 monthly stormwater fee as a compromise, but now you want to break that. If you proceed, the 6,676 permanent residents must pay $5,000 for every man, woman, and child. We demand you put this to a referendum. This council is losing the public trust, and we will fight you and replace you in the March 2017 election.”

    Public works director Scott Baker provided an in-depth presentation on the current and future needs of the stormwater utility, emphasizing that too much currently discharges into the back bay, “with no treatment at all. It is very critical that communities around the beach be better stewards of their own water system.”

    Cadillac Versus Chevrolet

    Interim Town Manager James Steele recommended a $20.3 million stormwater system option, as opposed to the $33 million plan, with $4.9 million to streets near Downtown and Times Square, $3.7 million for the 10 worst streets on the island, $2.1 million for the Segment 2 outfalls, $1.3 million for Segment 3, and design at $1.3 million. Another $7 million is for swales and like work rather than pipes in the ground on every street, for $20.3 million, with Steele joking “this is more a Chevrolet or Dodge than a Cadillac!”

    He recommended a funding plan: the Town via three long-term loans will access $16.8 million, while raising $3.5 million from its stormwater fee, for $20.3 million. The monthly fee remains the same through September 2020, when it increases $1-a-month, then another 50 cents-a-month in 2021, and another 50 cents monthly in 2022, making it $21.98. It remains there until the Town pays off the initial loan in 2032 and drops to $14.98. When the final loan is complete in 2040, it dips to $11.90-a-month for on-going maintenance. Steele concluded by saying “I think we have a very good option here!”

    The Interim Town Manager offered an alternative: the Town can retain its $19.98 fee if it increases its millage rate from 0.8 mills in September 2019 by 0.0181 mills, a 0.009-mill increase in 2020, and another 0.009 mills in 2021. It remains there until the Town pays off the first loan in 2032, then drops to the 0.8-mill figure.

    Everything Keeps Changing

    Council member Tracey Gore said “I wish this had gone to a referendum; I still don’t like it. Everything keeps changing; first it was $33 million, now we can do it for a whole lot less. I just never know what I am going to get hit with next.” Council member Joanne Shamp said, “I do not believe this stormwater system is the way to advance this Town. I cannot support it because it puts the Town over a barrel, and unfairly burdens individual property owners. In many cases, they will pay more for stormwater than taxes, making it disproportional. I cannot support this, and cannot make that more clear.”

    At that, the room broke into applause. Shamp added “my preference is a referendum; we cannot go into this type of debt without one,” with Gore adding that “I am glad I finally have someone who agrees with me!” It was obvious at this point Council would defeat the Stormwater ordinance that evening by a 3 to 2 vote.

    Under Neighborhood Flooding, Council discussed re-adding Section 6-14 into the Land Development Code (LDC) to require a Site Development Permit, as leaving this to the discretion of the applicant and Town staff is ambiguous and frustrating.

    The Single Family & Duplex Permitting Administrative Code would ensure all development meets LDC standards, assists with the implementation of the existing code, and provides staff and the public a permitting procedure baseline. Gore is “not in favor of administrative codes, all we have to do is follow the codes we already have. It is already difficult here to obtain a permit; it seems like we are not a nice, friendly community. We do not need an extra layer of government. We are a little island; we have not had this for 20 years and are OK.”

    $24,999

    Council reviewed the Town’s $25,000 threshold purchasing ordinance. Gore feels “Town money is spent without our guidance, and we need to provide more oversight. We have a lot of payments at $24,999 and you can get $24,999-ed right out of business!” Mayor Dennis Boback added that “I do not have a problem with the $25,000 threshold; I have a problem when we split everything up into $10,000 components that do not provide Council the true cost.”

    Under Beach & Bay Access Improvements, Council discussed an improvements policy. Council member Rexann Hosafros believes “it is important to have neighborhood involvement in these projects; what one wants another will not.” Council member Anita Cereceda countered that “I know every time I say this I aggravate neighbors but it is about the entire town; residents as well as future residents and visitors. I am sympathetic but if we as a council believe that is the direction that is best for the future of the Town, then that is our duty.”

    In reviewing criteria to select the new Town Manager, Steele explained the employment qualifications, saying with a smile that “I don’t know how you include in here someone who has Common Sense and a sense of humor!” Council will not require the new Town Manager to live on Estero Island but must be within a reasonable driving distance to respond to emergencies, and authorized the Interim Town Manager to select the Screening Committee members. They set the pay range at $120,000 to $150,000 in addition to health and benefit packages, with a March 31, 2017 hiring deadline.

    The already visibly-fatigued Council adjourned at 5:56 p.m., just short of 4 hours, and 30 minutes prior to their Council meeting.

     

    Gary Mooney