The Estero Island Taxpayers Association (EITA) made their debut recently during a public comment period at the November 21st Fort Myers Beach Town Council Meeting. That introduction, along with their advertisements in the Island Sand Paper and other media, have led some readers to have questions about this new organization. This might be especially true if you are part of the group that contributes about 86% of the Town’s ad valorem (real estate) taxes, but are not a resident, thus not a voter. EITA points out that just 16.4% of the taxpaying community is ‘counted’ at the polls.
The group is focused on their campaign, “I COUNT,” representing the rights and priorities of all Fort Myers Beach taxpayers. Their hope is for 100% of taxpayers to have their voices heard at Town Hall. For details, see esteroislandta.org, under the “I Count” link.
The organization seeks to further the voice of the large non-voter property taxpayer population in our community within the walls of Town Hall. Though unique in many ways, Fort Myers Beach is like many popular vacation destination communities that have wrestled with this issue for decades. With a few rare exceptions, voters must declare residence and vote only there. That’s a problem for non-resident business owners who have large real estate holdings associated with their businesses, but no apparent voice in Town Hall. It’s likewise an issue for second homeowners, who can have significant investment in vacation or rental properties, but have little input into the codes and regulations that govern ownership operation and use. While there are some vacation communities that, along with their state government, have allowed non-resident taxpayers to vote on local issues and representation, the number is small and none are in Florida.
The Sand Paper caught up with Beverly Milligan, one of the organizers of EITA this week to ask the question, “What’s next for EITA?”
Milligan is co-owner of Myerside Resort on Fort Myers Beach, a boutique style resort that recently completed a major rehab and upgrading of the property located across the street from Beach Elementary. When posed the ‘What’s Next?’ question, Milligan began with an open invitation for Islanders to attend their next Town Hall style meeting at the Fort Myers Beach Women’s Club, 175 Sterling Ave (behind the car wash) on December 13th from 7- 9pm.
Milligan and a small group of local like-minded people envision the organization to be a “liaison to existing organizations already on the Island to champion issues supported by the EITA.” The organization hopes to focus on the needs of non-resident snowbirds, investment property owners, condo associations, retail groups and others. The organization is in the process of incorporating as a non-profit and naming an Advisory Board.
In addition to the EITA meeting on December 13, Milligan indicated the December 5th Town Council Meeting would be important to the organization. The Council indicated on November 21st that they would name a Town Council member to act as Liaison to the EITA by December 5th, so as to provide a representative to listen and share Council perspective. Having a council liaison would be an important beginning to ongoing dialogue between Town Hall and EITA and the members it represents.
Also on the December 5th agenda is consideration of the selection of someone to fill the council seat vacated by Summer Stockton when she resigned effective November 30th. There are three months remaining in that term. There are six applicants that have asked to be considered for that seat. See separate story in this issue.
Three council seats will be on the March 2017 ballot, the seats currently occupied by Anita Cereceda and Rexann Hosafros plus the currently vacant Stockton seat.
Apparent in discussions with Milligan was the importance of the election process for all community leadership positions. The selection and vetting of candidates who may be sympathetic to the concerns of non-voter taxpayers and EITA’s declared issues will be a part of the EITA role.
Milligan indicated monthly EITA meetings are planned with speakers and topics of common interest such as storm water management and condo associations. On December 13th, Tom Torgerson of TPI Hospitality will present TPI’s latest vision for redevelopment of the downtown area of Fort Myers Beach.