Although not on the agenda, fireworks and Times Square safety dominated the short-handed Council Meeting for The Town of Fort Myers Beach on Monday, October 24. Mayor Dennis Boback and Council Members Anita Cereceda and Tracy Gore were in attendance, providing the minimum number present to act, with Vice Mayor Summer Stockton and Council Member Rexanne Hosafros on excused absences.
Bud Nocera, president of the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, set the tone under Public Comment on these matters. He said the Fireworks Committee stands ready to issue check payments for the New Year’s Eve fireworks display and accompanying trolley service, and it is their hope that Town Council finds funds to permit the show on December 31 as well as for the Fourth of July in 2017.
His second issue is a growing concern over Times Square public safety. Panhandlers and others who frequent the area become quite aggressive with visitors and volunteers at the Chamber’s Information Booth, even to the point of accosting people. In addition to begging, his personnel witness drug deals among other issues, and the situation is getting worse. His volunteers are hesitant to run the booth after dark, and he requests that Council ask for greater visibility from Lee County Sheriff’s deputies.
Near the end of the meeting, council members returned to these issues, with Cereceda saying the report concerning Times Square is absolutely accurate. She has a business there with several female employees who express the same nighttime concerns. She said there are questionable characters that set up in Times Square, and when she inquired of one if he had a permit to be there, he became belligerent.
“There are things happening there that need attention,” she said.
Gore said this is not just a Times Square problem but occurs all over the island, and it is getting worse; perhaps it is time to reexamine the former Sheriff’s Substation at Times Square. The Mayor plans to meet next week with the Sheriff’s Office and will express the Town’s concerns and request their assistance. Gore stated the substation removal agreement said that the Sheriff’s Office would provide three deputies exclusively for the beach but the Mayor said that ended with that department’s budget cuts.
Rocket’s Red Glare
Cereceda next addressed fireworks for New Year’s Eve, strongly emphasizing that the Town does not pay for fireworks specifically. She believes that New Year’s Eve is a celebration of the Town’s birthday as well as a community and family holiday event on an island that prides itself on being family-friendly.
“Fireworks has become a bit of a misnomer, much like ‘elevated pools’ was. We’re talking about a community celebration. Fireworks is an element of that celebration. Fireworks will not be funded by the town; we’ve made that decision. A group has stepped forward to raise money toward that end. They’ve also raised money to fund trolleys,” Cereceda said. “I believe that the Town, on New Year’s Eve, still should have an event that celebrates our anniversary…I would hope that there are funds to move ahead with that event. Funds have been raised to cover more than half of it. I think it’s important.”
Gore agreed that the Town should celebrate these occasions, but with daytime events at Bay Oaks Recreation Center. The Fourth of July is different from New Year’s Eve, she explained, because that is the birth of our nation, is earlier in the evening, and is more for residents because it is out of season. The Town can be a part of that as long as it does not run it, she said.
“This time last year, Dave Anderson of the Chamber came here and said, ‘we are ready to take responsibility from the town like the Semmer family did.’ That means pulling permits from the county, town and DEP-it’s not hard to do.” Gore said. “If they need a little extra funding to help that celebration, I would be ok with that but only for the 4th of July. I think that New Year’s Eve should be a community event held at Bay Oaks.”
Mayor Boback said he is not against fireworks celebrations but wants to review a detailed plan to determine if the Town can squeeze financial assistance from its budget.
Cereceda commented that thousands come to Fort Myers Beach each New Year’s Eve, and the lack of the annual event will be disappointing. She emphasized again that the Town does not pay for fireworks but support personnel like Fire and Sheriff. Gore said too many people are drunk so it is not a family event, and the cost of security is roughly half the amount for each night. The Sheriff’s Office advises that if there is no alcohol on these occasions, there will not be a need for much security. Cereceda will bring a detailed budget back to Council so the full council can review potential action.
In other matters, Council issued Proclamations that commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve, the first aquatic preserve in Florida; and National Red Ribbon Week for drug-free kids from October 23 to 30.
Under Consent Agenda, Council unanimously approved the Fiscal Year 2016-17 Lee County Animal Control Interlocal Agreement, the Estero Boulevard Beach Access Pole Signs, and the termination of the International City/Council Management Association Retirement Plan, while considering the Tourist Development Tax Funding and Sunset Celebration Concert Series Grant separately.
Council assured that the 2016-17 Tourist Development Tax Fund Agreement will be for beach & shoreline maintenance and the Mound House tram, and not for items such as toilets at beach accesses, and passed this unanimously 3 to 0. Under the $6,282 grant for the Sunset Celebration Concerts, Gore stressed that the Times Square Merchants Association and not the Town sponsors these programs. Since the grant comes to the Town, however, it must track all marketing expenses, but she wants the merchants to apply for it next year. Following this, Council unanimously accepted the grant.
Two ordinances received their second public hearing and subsequent unanimous approval: Moving the Town’s March 2017 election date from the second to first Tuesday so it falls on the same day as all other Lee County municipalities, and to place the Revenue Sharing Referendum on the March 2017 ballot to obtain State revenue-sharing funds in the event of declining property values.
The Paint The Beach Plein Air Art Festival and Fort Myers Beach Art Association requested that Council waive all event fees including parking; Times Square rental for the Quick Draw competition on Saturday, November 12; permit fee; and hanging the Festival banner across Estero Boulevard. Council agreed to waive the parking and Times Square fees, but waiving the other two would establish a precedent, therefore Paint The Beach must pay the $100 for the permit and $160 to hang their banner.
Interim Town Manager James Steele stated that the Town received over 160 applications for the new Bay Oaks Recreation Center director, with 146 having at least an Associate’s degree with 62 in the recreation field. Of that group, 67 have Master’s degrees with 32 in the field. The committee meets mid-November to begin the hiring process.
Town Council convenes again on Monday, November 7, with a workshop at 10 a.m.