Town Budget Passes First Hearing

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    On Thursday night, Town Council moved the budget and the .8 mil rate to a second and final public hearing on Thursday, September 22. They also approved special events permits for both The Island Hopper Songwriting Festival and Sand Sculpting, though it’s likely that event will have pay permit fees next year.

    During public comment, Charlie Whitehead, Vice-President of Beach Little League, asked for clarification on what the Town’s plans are for the building housing the concession stand.

    “My understanding – and (Interim Town Manager) Jim Steele’s – is that the existing understanding between Little League and the Town – which expires December 31 – regarding the upstairs level of the concession stand is that it is used as an umpire meeting room and a dressing room,” he said. “That building was built and paid for by beach volunteers – as was the equipment and the air conditioning – and volunteers also pay for the utilities and the maintenance. Has Council directed Steele to make the concession stand available for use as a storage area for the Town?”

    Town Administrative Services Director Maureen Rischitelli then introduced the tentative millage rate of 0.8, representing a 6.9% increase from the rollback rate. Council moved the tax rate to a required second hearing on Thursday, September 22nd at 6:30pm. Council also moved the Town’s operating budget to a second hearing, after Council member Rexann Hosafros added language stating that Little League, Beach Soccer and the three instructors at the Newton House be ‘grandfathered in’, meaning the new fee schedule will not apply to them.

     

    Parking Regulation Changes

    Council then opened the first public hearing on an amendment to a current ordinance related to regulations pertaining to parking in Town Rights-Of-Way, overnight parking and the collection of fines imposed for parking violations.

    Council member Tracey Gore said that this ‘seems to be like more regulations’.

    “I can’t support this,” she said. “I don’t like the fact that we enforce the meters until 9pm when the county only enforces theirs until 6pm, either.”

    Hosafros said that the issues in this ordinance came directly from the magistrate.

    “I think your concerns are outside of what this ordinance does,” she said. “The Town already follows this, this just represents a few changes.”

    The new language includes prohibition against parking in a location that ‘is not designated as a legal parking space, and is not marked with signs or lines, including locations within the right-of-way or public utility easement’. It also calls for ‘immobilization or impounding of the vehicle’ for repetitive violations by the same person. Also, those with three or more unpaid parking violations may be prevented from getting their licenses renewed until the fines are paid to the Town.

    Council finally agreed (3-1, Gore dissenting) to move the ordinance to a second hearing on September 22nd, and to meet with Lehnert to address their concerns in the interim. Council member Anita Cereceda had an excused absence as she was attending a tourism conference.

     

    Special Events

    A special events permit requested by Nervous Nellies for the upcoming Island Hopper Songwriting Festival was also approved pending a sign-off by the fire department.

    Vice-Mayor Summer Stockton had one major problem with the permit, however, in that some of the performers are scheduled to play until 10:30pm and the permit is only until 10pm. Program Developer Kara Stewart agreed to relay Council’s concerns to Nervous Nellies so the problem can be dealt with immediately.

    A permit for the 30th Annual American Sand Sculpting Championships was also approved, though Gore said she’d like to see the Town not waive the $2,000 permit fees, saying that the vendors make enough money at the event to pay them.

    Jason Camp with Big C Events, who manages the event that is sponsored by the Beach Chamber, said the Sand Sculpting event costs over $200,000 to put on.

    “This is a fundraiser, but do we make a little money? Yes,” he said. “But each day supports a different charity. In years past, the Town has actually contributed funds to help us with expenses.”

    Hosafros suggested waiving the fees next year and allowing the event to proceed as planned for this year and Council agreed, so the permit was approved unanimously.

     During Council members’ Items, Stockton asked about Whitehead’s concerns. Boback said the only reason he brought up is so the Town can use the concession stand if they need to, but that usage won’t conflict with Little League. Council agreed to ask Steele to meet with Whitehead to discuss the shared usage of the building.

     

    Stormwater Redux

    Stockton then made a motion to reconsider an August 22 vote approving the Stormwater Facilities Plan.

    “I want it to be clear that we have to address our stormwater problems on this island,” she said. “But I don’t feel comfortable until the following conditions are met: We have in place an interlocal agreement (ILA) for the basin based area or any other prior work and for all work going forward. These agreements must include the installation costs, environmental maintenance and monitoring of water quality. I’d also like to see the agreement that was the basis for the environmental permit that was issued on March 5, 2015 with the South Florida Water Management District. I’d also like to know the specific number of property owners who will end up paying for this project and, while we are waiting for the ILA’s I’d like to see staff or committee create educational pamphlets on Best Management Practices so residents can understand what they can do to help our stormwater issues.”

    Gore immediately seconded, to which Hosafros strongly objected – saying she felt ambushed.

    “It’s just a plan, you can amend this plan any way you want,” Hosafros said. “Especially since Anita isn’t here, I’ll ask you to reconsider this motion.”

    Boback – who voted against the facilities plan on August 22, said he’s changed his opinion.

    “Without the plan the Town cannot pursue funding,” he said. “I met with Senator Benacquisto recently, and she agreed to help us find funding – if we don’t have a plan in place, we won’t get anywhere.” Since the vote was 2-2, Stockton’s motion failed.

    Finally, Gore asked for and received permission to move forward with starting another Youth Council at Beach Elementary.

     

    Keri Hendry Weeg

    Photo courtesy of fortmyersbeachfl.gov