At the final public budget hearing on Thursday night, a divided Town Council passed the proposed 0.8 millage rate and budget for the coming fiscal year. They also approved a new contract with Town Attorney Dawn Lehnert and agreed to a November 7 workshop to hear new plans from former developer Tom Torgerson.
During Local Achievements and Recognitions, Council member Tracey Gore thanked the Fort Myers Beach Kids Foundation for raising the funds to purchase ChromeBooks for the students at Beach Elementary.
The first item on the agenda was a request from Nervous Nellie’s to allow open containers at the Town Fountain area during the daytime hours (noon-5pm) of the 2016 Pirate Festival.
“This is a request for open container from Nervous Nellie’s, but the event is being held by the Chamber,” said Kara Stewart. “Last year, the open container request was made by the Chamber. Both provide insurance for the event.”
Gore asked if Nervous Nellie’s understands that ‘open container’ means anyone can show up with a cooler. Owner Lem Lemmer said yes.
“This has occurred in the past – with people bringing coolers – and we’ve never had a problem,” he said. “Also, there will be several deputies there, too.”
Council member Anita Cereceda asked why the request is for ‘open container’ rather than ‘extension of premise’, saying the latter makes more sense – like the merchants in Time Square do on New Year’s.
Program Developer Kara Stewart said that while she doesn’t know about what happens in Time Square on New Year’s, the Land Development Code isn’t clear about extension of premises on Town property. Lemmer said he’d actually prefer the extension option. Council agreed, approving the extension of premises – with the exception of Council member Rexann Hosafros, who objected to forcing people to purchase their beverages from Nervous Nellie’s.
The next item was a request from Nervous Nellies to extend an already approved request for open container plus music from 10pm to 10:30pm during next weekend’s Island Hopper Songwriters Festival, based on concerns voiced by Vice-Mayor Summer Stockton at the last meeting that the musicians, including her spouse, were scheduled to perform until 10:30pm.
Mayor Dennis Boback immediately attempted to then change ‘open container’ to ‘extension of premises’ for that event also, and Stewart reminded Council that the ‘open container’ request was approved at the last meeting.
Hosafros objected to the two different approvals for events just one week apart.
“I don’t like changing things at the last minute,” she said. The extended hours were approved 4-1 (Hosafros dissenting).
Final Tax Rate & Budget Set
Council then opened the final public hearings for both the millage and the budget.
Speaking during public comment, Charlie Whitehead said that the current budget does not include any money for a Bay Oaks director.
“I don’t see how you can cut the funding and not have the director’s salary included in the new budget and say you are protecting Bay Oaks,” he said, and pointed out a Florida League of Cities statistic showing that Fort Myers Beach has by far the lowest tax rate out of eight other comparable cities in the state.
Ceel Spuhler said she hasn’t heard anyone say that 0.9 or 0.865 would be a bad millage rate.
“Would it not be better to have a little more coming in for all the things you have on your plate?” she said. “Wouldn’t it be forward thinking to raise it a little more – 0.8 sounds so static.”
Stockton then made a motion to formally adopt the 0.8 millage rate, which was seconded by Gore. Hosafros said she believes the rate should be set at 0.85 on the advice of the Town Manager. The original motion passed 3-2 (Hosafros, Cereceda dissenting). The $10,296,573 budget itself passed unanimously. The budget can be found on the Town’s website fortmyersbeachfl.gov under ‘Government’ > ‘Departments’ > ‘Finance.’
“I want to go on record by saying that we were presented a budget, then this Council directed staff to cut the mil rate to 0.8 while at the same time demanding they figure out a way to hire the most expensive position at Bay Oaks,” Hosafros said. “I would request that we remove the hiring of that person from the budget because we have no way to pay for it.”
Council then approved a one-year contract with Town Attorney Dawn Lehnert for $7,000/month plus expenses, the new budget policy presented by the Town’s Audit Committee and the reserve amounts discussed at the afternoon workshop.
During final public comment, Chamber of Commerce Chairman Dave Anderson expressed concern about the open container approval.
“Who now has the responsibility for that monitoring?” he asked. “You’ve now shifted some liability to the Chamber that it wasn’t prepared for – including additional police. I don’t know whether these consequences were intended, but that is what happened.”
During Council members’ Items, Cereceda asked if enough applications had come in to fill all the vacancies on the advisory committees, and Town Clerk Michelle Mayher said yes, with the possible exception of the Community Resources Advisory Board (CRAB).
“I think it would be great to have Commissioner Larry Kiker, Rob Phelan of the Lee County Department of Transportation and maybe the guys from Mitchell & Stark come here to do a presentation on the timeline for Phase I of the Estero Boulevard reconstruction project,” Cereceda said, and the rest of Council agreed.
Hosafros said she received a request to meet with Tom Torgerson to discuss his new proposal.
“I would like to ask him to come present to us at a workshop,” she said. Council agreed, and Steele said Torgerson’s group is on the workshop agenda for November 7th.
Stockton asked Lehnert to address Anderson’s concerns about liability, and Dawn replied that it would lie with Nervous Nellies, as would any additional costs.
Gore asked if a contractor could go look at the Town Fountain, saying it looks horrible.
“I know we’re going to do something else with it eventually, but for right now can’t we fix it?” she asked. Hosafros pointed out that Council just passed a budget that does not include money to fix the fountain. Stockton and Boback said they don’t have a problem getting a quote, and Council directed staff to get one.
During Town Manager’s Items, Steele asked for a policy discussion on the administrative code, ROW issues and parking.
The next meeting of the Town Council of Fort Myers Beach will be held on Monday, October 3rd at 2pm at Town Hall, 2525 Estero Boulevard. A work session is scheduled for 10am that morning.
Keri Hendry Weeg