It’s that time of year again. Break out the pad and pencil and start thinking about how 2017 is going to be different than 2016.
Here are our Island wishes for 2017…
Thoughtful and civil conversation on community issues. Not every difference of opinion should lead to estrangement and the conclusion that the person holding a different opinion is uninformed and the enemy. No doubt tied to our national tendency to vilify anyone who doesn’t agree 100% with us, it is much more harmful in a small community than it is on the national stage. We need to work with each other on community projects down the road. If we all dig our heels in and stop working with each other, most of the wonderful community efforts we all support would disappear.
A safe year for residents and visitors. No traffic fatalities, no pedestrian casualties. Full attention and respect for everyone on the roads.
A busy season that brings business and prosperity to our Island businesses and the employees that keep them humming. I’m not going to wish for cold weather up north, even though we know that triggers a wave of visitors.
Public restrooms for visitors and islanders who enjoy our beach. Really, we’re not the only ones who think this is important. Unfortunately, our visitors do not attend council meetings. It’s sad to see these people who have been on the beach searching desperately for a public restroom. While they may have patronized a business for lunch, hours later and maybe a half mile further down the beach, they need public facilities.
A wave of buying local that supports local shops and employees throughout the year.
Public accesses that serve the public, not just the neighborhood. Public means other island residents and visitors. Not every access is large enough for parking and a bunch of amenities, but there is certainly room for a bench and a pole with a water fountain and a shower at every access point.
Stability and institutional memory at Town Hall. The list of Town staff that has been with the Town for over 5 years grows shorter every year. Some turnover is expected, but the last few years have seen an almost complete change in some departments. Some institutional memory is important and we hope that staff sticks around to develop some because it makes working with Town Hall smoother for everyone.
Town leaders that want the best for our little town and know that they have to work with and appreciate all viewpoints on issues. By March we will have up to three new council members, plus a new Town Manager and Town Attorney. We hope they come to the job with a genuine desire to serve Islanders and plan to stick around awhile.
Progress on the downtown area. This area needs to be developed into something. Right now there are too many empty storefronts and abandoned lots. The downward spiral began with Hurricane Charley in 2004 and has reached a tipping point 12 years later. One plan was shot down earlier this year before it even made it to the application process. Another one has already been turned away from the Town because it lacked county authorization. The county has said they won’t do anything, including authorization, until the Town acts. Catch-22 as the Town waits for the County to act and the County waits for the Town to act. Meanwhile our downtown continues to decay.
Continued progress on our water utility, storm water and Estero Blvd projects. All three are long-awaited and sorely needed. They’ve been in the planning stages for years. It’s going to take some intestinal fortitude to keep them moving forward.
New life at Bay Oaks. Now that Bay Oaks has a Director, we’re hoping for new and engaging programs that the entire town will patronize.
A new spirit of cooperation between residents, taxpayers and businesses as we all work toward what is best for our Island home and all Islanders. We have long defined an Islander as anyone who lives, works or visits here. It matters not whether you own, rent or work here. Or maybe you pay to park for a day here. Islanders love this little island and want what’s best for it. That is the definition of an Islander in our book. Anytime one of those groups is marginalized, we all suffer.
Short and long-term solutions to our Lake Okeechobee water release problems, both the over-abundance of polluted water in the rainy season as the Army Corps keeps the lake level low to protect the dike; and the under-supply during the dry season, when low water flow increases salinity in the Caloosahatchee River threatening wildlife.
Continued generosity and community spirit for the many benefits and fundraisers that help our neighbors in need throughout the year.
These are our Island wishes. Do you have an Island wish we missed? Send us a letter and we’ll share it with our readers.
Happy New Year Fort Myers Beach!
Missy & Bob Layfield