It was déjà vu all over again over fireworks for the Fort Myers Beach Town Council, although its meeting, perhaps in a sign of a collective New Year’s Resolution, lasted just slightly over 90 minutes, rather than its business-as-usual 3 to 4 hour sessions as toward the end of 2016.
With fireworks, the noise ordinance and anchorage on the agenda, Interim Town Manager James Steele began the festivities by introducing Sean De Palma, the new Bay Oaks Recreation Center Director on his first day on the job. In taking the podium to a polite welcoming applause from the roughly 20 residents in attendance, Sean said he “looks forward to evolving the recreation center so it better serves this community, including our residents and all our visitors and guests.”
Under Public Comments, in a sign of coming attractions, Jacki Liszak, president of the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce and member of the Fort Myers Beach Fireworks Fundraising Committee, said “Happy New Year – and here we go again!” She presented Council with a $19,292 check to add to an anonymous $5,000 the Town received previously, as well as a little over $1,000 from trolley fees, to assist with paying for the New Year’s Eve fireworks and trolley service.
Maureen Rischitelli, Director of Administrative Services, said the total cost for the New Year’s Eve event including fireworks and security was $38,562 but this does not factor in the donated funds. If the Town wishes to continue, it needs to bid a new contract as the last one expired after New Year’s Eve.
New Year’s Eve – Family Event or Not?
Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros reiterated her “consistent position that New Year’s Eve and The Fourth of July are joint efforts between the community and Town, and we should fund the part that government funds, like security. I appreciate the joint effort.” Council member Joanne Shamp says the security cost for the day is slightly over $12,000 and this is not a benefit to the average taxpayer: “I searched for guidance from the Comp Plan that calls for the Town to foster neighborly interaction and a sense of community including hosting parades. On The 4th of July, families line the street to view the parade. New Year’s Eve is more for adults so I distinguish between the two; I love The 4th but see New Year’s Eve differently.”
Council member Anita Cereceda said New Year’s Eve celebrations “are so absolutely a family event. New Year’s Eve celebrates the Town’s incorporation and is a very important part of our community. Even if the Town had no event, there would still be thousands of people on the island to ring in the New Year, so you cannot attribute the entire security cost to fireworks; if we had none we would still need crowd control. There is The Event and there is The Day, and most people come to the beach to celebrate The Day. I continue to support both evenings.”
Maureen stated that these are long days for the staff: “Public Works is there until 4 a.m., then back early for beach clean-up.” She then pointed to her head and said with a smile: “This little grey hair here is from this year’s fireworks,” with Cereceda adding that “everyone knows Public Works are the little elves that make the magic happen!”
Gore stated that “I consistently support The 4th of July but not New Year’s Eve and I stand by that.” Mayor Dennis Boback said “we do not explore sponsorships or naming rights, and if we do, maybe we can do a lot more than now.” Shamp suggested alternatives to fireworks, saying that “for $20-a-pop, my family purchased displays that lit up our trees just like fireworks; you can have the night but not the expense.” Gore echoed this, saying that “a lazar-light show would be a lot cheaper.”
Ordinance & Anchors
Under the Noise Ordinance, Town Planner Matt Noble said he has had no negative comments to date concerning the noise ordinance from the public or the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. Gore disputed this, as she “personally called both the Town and Sheriff about a Times Square restaurant, as well as construction paver work on Sunday mornings, and there was a recent Letter to the Editor about street cleaning and sanitation trucks operating too early.”
Hosafros said the Noise Ordinance “is near and dear to my heart, as I worked on it a long time. I would think people would contact me if they were unhappy, but at this point what we have is working.” Gore noted the initial ordinance impetus was over music, but issues now are trash pickup and construction. Mayor Boback commented that since most Estero Boulevard construction is now further down the roadway, perhaps the Town could remove exemptions for trash pickup to avoid construction crew conflicts.
The Town almost had to declare a noise ordinance injunction against itself, as a spirited discussion broke out between Mayor Boback, Vice Mayor Hosafros and Gore over whether this conversation were an appropriate use of Council’s time as there were no complaints. Hosafros said this behavior is the cause of Council’s excessively long public meetings, while the Mayor and Gore insist that questions during Workshops are necessary.
Council eventually moved on to the Harbor Management Plan, with Cereceda saying that “I learn more about anchorage and boating from this (Anchorage Advisory) committee than I ever thought possible because I am not a boater and they have great experience. We should meet in a special session with them to take advantage of their great expertise.”
Remaining Council members immediately agreed, and then continued the discussion, causing the Vice Mayor to say again “we have a consensus to host a joint session so why keep talking about this now?” The Mayor asked that Town staff meet with the Anchorage Advisory Committee in advance of its January 18 meeting, so “you can differentiate with what you agree and disagree with, as I have three different plans in my review book now, and don’t need a fourth!”
The Workshop adjourned at 10:36 a.m., with a Council meeting beginning later that day at 2 p.m.