While the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District Board of Commissioners did agree to waive a $100 inspection fee for the Lee County Open Water Swim event to be held June 3-5 at Lynn Hall Park, they did put the Lee Visitor & Convention Bureau on notice that they are not amenable to waiving fees for non-profit events that cost the district money for staff and equipment time.
Nancy Apperson, Lee County Parks, and Kathy Loomis, Lee Parks West District Manager, appeared before the board at their Tuesday, April 5, 2016 meeting to request a waiver of fees. Apperson mentioned that she was under the impression that the request had been for a complete waiver of fees. The request that was submitted by Division Chief Ron Martin was only for a waiver of the $100 special event inspection fee. He explained that a separate fee of $1080 was for staff and equipment required on site during the event and were dollars that the district would have to spend for the event.
Apperson told the board that the Open Swim was an event brought to the county by the VCB and would bring 200 swimmers plus their families to the beach. They would rent hotel rooms and eat at beach restaurants during a traditionally slow period in early June.
Board Chair Carol Morris explained that those hotel and restaurant dollars do not benefit the fire district’s finances.
“That positive impact is not for the fire district. It’s never a positive impact for the fire district. Anytime you put more people here, we never get an advantage.
“Hotels will fill up and the Town will get more $ for that, but we don’t.”
The board then voted 5-0 to waive the $100 special event inspection fee.
The Florida Association of Special Districts Annual Conference is scheduled for early June in Sarasota. After a brief discussion, the board decided to send Fire Chief Matt Love and Board Chair Carol Morris to the meeting.
During the Chief’s report, Love indicated that while he’d only been Chief for 2 ½ weeks, things were going very well and he was beginning to prioritize issues that he would like to focus on. He also said he would be speaking to the entire district staff later this week.
Troy Mesick of the IAFF Local 1826, District 3 told the board that Lee County firefighters raised approximately $172,000 during their MDA boot drive, but the Fort Myers Beach district total was down from previous years.
“We did get kicked out of our location for the second year in a row, so we were down…we didn’t mess up traffic anymore than it usually is,’ Mesick said. “ We had a permit for the county road, but the Town said we needed a special event permit from them. City Manager Don Stilwell doesn’t like us much, but it’s a great cause.”
During Commissioner Remarks, Ted Schindler said he would like the board to take a proactive look at drafting something regarding the district’s maintenance of fire hydrants for the Town.
“We haven’t billed them for years, I think it’s time to start charging them,” Schindler said. “Then maybe we can waive more fees.”
Morris brought up the issue of the district’s higher expenses related to season without any reimbursement from the county’s bed tax.
“This board, I believe, is a pretty skinflint type of board that’s looking at ways to save money…we have to put with all this traffic that comes to visit us during season. Where are they coming from? Who gets the benefits? Not the fire district. The fire district doesn’t get one red cent of that bed tax. Why should we have to get all the bad stuff from all these people?
“We need to get some portion of that bed tax. We have to staff more. We have more calls during season. We should get some small benefit.”
Schindler agreed with Morris’ point, suggesting that the district gather statistics on where the people they serve are from, indicating that if they can prove they are from other states or countries, they might have a basis to go after the bed tax for the district.
The Fire District is almost ready to put its newest vehicle, Rescue 31, into service. The mini-ambulance is a Polaris Ranger with a custom body designed to help district staff navigate traffic and construction and assist in beach rescues. Assistant Fire Chief Tom May explained that the vehicle will support the district’s mission by helping to transport patients to a waiting ambulance in situations where a regular ambulance’s access might be limited.
The Fire Board will meet next on Tuesday, April 19th at 6pm at Station 31, 3043 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach.