Divided Town Council Agrees to $19.98 Base Stormwater Fee

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Town Hall was packed to well over capacity when Council reconvened for their meeting Monday afternoon, with over 300 people crammed into aisles and even sitting on the floor in front of the dais. Most of them were present for one thing – the proposed stormwater utility fee.

During Public Comment, John Heim, saying he represents the Southwest Florida Clean Water Movement (though he appeared solo at the meeting) called for the resignation of Mayor Anita Cereceda.

“We have just come off the bridge where we spent 60 days asking for an awareness of water releases. We asked the mayor to put QR codes at the beach accesses; she has not. We are also highly against the seawall proposed by Grand Resorts – they are built to protect investments, not the beach. The main reason, when it comes to all of the problems Fort Myers Beach is facing, we are calling for the resignation of the mayor.”

He was followed by Joe Stockton, who questioned Heim’s motive.

“It may be that he’s developed a lot of self-related publicity, but there are no legal grounds calling for the mayor to resign,” he said. “I’m not sure there are any moral or ethical grounds, either.”

Members of the Bay Beach community asked their attorney, Michael Ciccarone, to speak for them.

“I represent the EBIA, they have a membership comprised of all the condo associations within Bay Beach, I think 1,300 unit owners,” he said. “This morning, I asked the Council to pass a resolution to exclude Bay Beach from the stormwater utility. The problem is that the Town is on the threshold of charging all those unit holders a fee when they do not, nor can they, use this service. And the idea that we’d have to pay even an administrative fee – that would be a tax for which we get nothing. If you pass such a fee for Bay Beach, you are going to have a problem.”

Jean Kakatsch spoke next, quoting Jim Steele’s comments in an article in the Island Sand Paper and its Editorial calling for maintenance of the Town’s current system.

“We called to see how this might be achieved, and we were told there was no money,” she said. Shouldn’t there be money in the budget to cover this maintenance? And – before we spend millions of dollars on a new system, shouldn’t the current issues be addressed?”

During Local Achievements and Recognitions, Councilwoman Rexann Hosafros mentioned Saturday’s Advisory Committee Appreciation dinner and invited everyone present to volunteer for the Town.

After approving a request for an outdoor concert at Sunset Beach Grill on February 27th, Council opened the public hearing regarding the stormwater utility fee.

“This morning, we all agreed that the ordinance needs to be amended, and that Bay Beach should be removed from the Town’s utility, ” Cereceda said, then opened the floor to public comment.

Joanne Shamp said she doesn’t mind paying her fair share, but she does mind paying for something ‘not properly thought out’.

Cereceda made a motion to: direct the Town Attorney to bring back the ordinance addressing all the insufficiencies that have been put on record, for her to review Ciccarone’s (EBIA’s) resolution, to set $19.98 as the ESU – a number which does not include the administrative fee – and to review that fee once the amendment question is resolved and the facilities plan completed at a date before the Town’s first budget discussion in September.

“Once the facilities plan is complete, all the details about levels of service will be revealed,” she said.

Hosafros pointed out that many people paid for stormwater for years when they lived in other locations.

“I’d be willing to say that most of those systems were likely in place before you were born – we are way behind here,” she said. “Our residents need help – we need to have the courage to go with the $26.50.”

The motion passed 3-2 (Hosafros and Mandel dissenting), with an effective date of March 1st of this year.

During the final public comment, Ceel Spuhler commended Council for their patience and commitment.

“Those of us who attend all these meetings fully appreciate what you do and we thank you,” she said.

Keri Hendry Weeg