Council Tackles Tough Topics
The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council covered a broad spectrum of tough topics Monday morning, June 19 at its final meeting before their summer break.
Perhaps the most controversial may have ramifications during its 2017-2018 Budget deliberations, with new Town Manager Roger Hernstadt recommending a 0.9 Tentative Millage Rate that would increase the Town’s current 0.8 mark. “Since joining the Town on April 25, I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time analyzing the budget and assessing the staff to address budget priorities and viable options,” he explained. “I believe 0.9 is the right millage for the Town…I look at the potential to maintain our current level of service, with operational efficiencies.”
“We hired Roger because of his expertise and my confidence in him has only grown,” said Council member Joanne Shamp. “He has not had time to fully understand how to best provide the government for this community, so to put it at 0.9 to not tie his hands I am comfortable with, as we can always adjust this down.” She then commented on a conversation she’d had with the Town Manager in which they discussed how the town was running in emergency mode, with deferred maintenance, no reserves and long-term issues that needed to be addressed. Council passed the 0.9 Tentative Millage Rate 4 to 1, with Mayor Dennis Boback Against.
Just prior to this, the Town Manager provided an initial report on whether it is more cost-efficient to have Beach & Street Compliance, Beach Water Utility and Community Development in-house or through outsourcing, with varying results. “I would like the Town Manager to look at everything and give us your opinion,” said Vice Mayor Tracey Gore. “The numbers will be the numbers,” he said. “Then you make your decisions based on the best service intangibles.”
Gore added that, “I think we have too many employees – I just do!” “This has nothing to do with the employees themselves not doing their jobs,” said Boback. “This is strictly a financial decision because it is our task to run the town as fiscally responsibly as we can.” “Call it financial or whatever,” said Council member Anita Cereceda, “but this does affect our employees and they are a part of our charge.” Gore countered, “I support outsourcing if that is better. Government Lite is less employees and outsourcing as much as we can.” “We are not here to make this decision today,” said Boback, “but comparisons will help us set the millage rate.”
The 50% Solution
Under Public Hearings, Council discussed the 2nd Reading of the 50% Floodplain Ordinance, including amending the 5-year cumulative cost approach down to a permit-by-permit basis. Shamp stated that “the proposed changes to the 50% Rule seems to me the opportunity to do a couple of things, like determining maximum density, so these 50% improvements do not double or triple density. I also have second thoughts about the permit-by-permit regulation and wonder if it might be better to go from five years down to one instead.” “I agree with your concerns,” concurred Gore.
Cereceda wondered if this change, so late in the process, would require Council to send it back to the Local Planning Agency (LPA) for further review. “There are many people who are excited and enthusiastic about this ordinance; can we proceed and address this amendment later?” “I am among those,” countered Shamp, “to keep the character of our community, but want to be cautious and judicious. I am also not sure the Community Development Staff is ready to handle all of these now, as it is not up to its maximum number of employees.”
Community Development Director Kara Stewart stated that the Town currently reviews density as part of the application process. “I mean no disrespect,” said Shamp, “but this is happening now, where people are renting out two units in a home where there only used to be one.” “I was concerned about this from the get-go,” said Gore. “This is a great idea if we do it right. This looks like the right path but we need to tackle it the right way, as the National Flood Insurance Program people gave us a warning to be careful. What is a couple more months, as people worry about their flood insurance and I don’t want to be the one to hurt them.” “You will not be,” answered Cereceda. “We discussed these issues over and again, by competent staff who clearly addressed your concerns, so we have been extraordinarily responsible over the past two years.”
The Town Manager suggested that, “in recognition of Council member Shamp’s suggestion, we add at the very end additional language that you cannot increase your density without the approval of the LPA and Town Council. That way people cannot increase density, intensity, or zoning and that will make that crystal clear, to proceed with the ordinance,” with Town Co-Attorney Jack Peterson approving. “This totally satisfies my issue,” concluded Shamp. Following this, Council approved the amended 50% Floodplain Ordinance 4 to 1, with Gore Against.
In a related issue, Council considered the 2nd Reading of the As Built Survey Ordinance, to require a boundary survey at the time of building permit application and an As-Built Survey prior to the issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy that passed unanimously.
Council next debated the 1st Reading of the Noise Ordinance to limit non-residential trash and recyclable collections to 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. A representative from Advance Disposal noted they may require an exemption from December to April due to the reFRESH Estero Boulevard construction. Gore said, “That has nothing to do with this, as that is an exception and you will need to come in with a request,” with Council unanimously passing the 1st Reading.
Under Water and Stormwater Improvements, Council discussed approving the 1st four joint outfalls on Segments 2 of the reFRESH Estero Boulevard Projects, for Bayview Avenue, Eucalyptus Court, Hercules Drive, and Jefferson Street, once it receives Army Corp of Engineers permits. “I totally appreciate this project and love what is being done with Estero Boulevard,” began Shamp. “I was the deciding vote in December 2016 to continue this, but now costs are 216% higher than projections. Outfalls were to be $215,000 each but now they are $508,000, with Lee County paying 20% and the Town 80%. When you figure in the price increase, the County now only pays 3.9%. I have no desire to slow down this project but we must reconcile this.”
“We will bring it up at the next County meeting,” said the Town Manager. “We have the right, as the split should not have been locked in on an estimate. Hopefully Lee County will be a cooperative partner and deal with us fairly,” with Council member Bruce Butcher adding, “This kind-of got me in the pocket book!” “With Roger in place,” offered Gore, “with his public works experience that is ridiculous, I feel good going forward, as he will have a good handle on negotiations.” Following this, Council provided unanimous approval.
The Worst Part of Being on Council
Council addressed a potential Parking Space Waiver for a combined business owner and resident, to park all night under the Matanzas Pass Bridge rather than enforcing its ban from 4 to 6 a.m. “I wish we could do something,” said Cereceda. “If we grant this waiver, how many others will want this,” asked Boback. “We cannot make exceptions for everyone.” “There is a solution here,” said the Town Manager, “but there is money tied to it. She can rent a parking space at established rates.” Cereceda suggested allowing her to temporarily remain, to find an alternative location. “She is the only one to come forward since we passed this last December, as when she bought her property, she could park there.” “I agree,” said Butcher. “Give her some slack.” “This is the worst part of being on Council,” related Gore. “I am afraid I agree with the Mayor, and I hate to be that way,” said Shamp, “but this can become a can of worms.”
Cereceda made a motion to allow the resident to park under the Matanzas Pass Bridge through Saturday, September 30; it passed 3 to 2, with Boback and Gore Against.
In other matters, Council unanimously allowed the Town to sell some surplus property; authorized the Town Manager to negotiate a Geographical Information System Consulting & Support Services contract with GeoBITS International, Inc.; set its Administrative Agenda for Town Council meetings on Mondays, August 14 & 21; and Management & Planning on Thursday, August 17, all at 9 a.m., as well as 2017-18 Budget Hearings on Thursdays, September 7 & 21, at 6:30 p.m.; and unanimously approved two Bank & Trust Transfers totaling $1.2 million. Council, who will not meet again until August 14, adjourned at 1:31 p.m.
In other town news, Community Development Director Kara Stewart has submitted her letter of resignation, effective September 30.