For most of mid-2017, following the election of three members last March, the Town of Fort Myers Beach Council had a standing refrain when discussing multiple unanswered topics – wait until we discuss it in the upcoming long-range planning sessions. Now, those three days that began in early June and concluded in Town Hall on Tuesday, August 15, are done, with a schedule for many of those decisions in place. The five Council members all actively participated, along with Town Manager Roger Hernstadt, with Lorna Kibbey of Leadership Solutions facilitating.
“Each of you received an assignment,” said Lorna, when detailing the earlier two sessions. “You took our list of goals that we defined and prioritized, to submit a plan to obtain specific, smart, measurable goals that we will form into a strategic action plan. My concern is you follow through, as you did great work here that we do not want to go to waste, so the plan of action will have major goals, leader names and timelines to fulfil these.”
“To me, I viewed these through the lens of what makes our island unique, beautiful, enjoyable, vibrant and with a great quality of life,” said Council member Bruce Butcher. “Those are the key words, and if what we do addresses those points, then our focus is correct, and we must keep referring to that to accomplish our mission. Understanding this is crucial, and I don’t care if we are here today until 8 p.m., or we come back to this in another session, as this is more important to me than time. We have to manage this every few months to make sure we move forward, to complete everything by 2019.”
Our #1 Issue
Council, in discussion over the next 6 hours, prioritized the following into specific time frames, including several projects within the next 45 days. Butcher and Hernstadt will collect data on the Town’s potable water and stormwater systems prior to Council needing to make funding decisions on these matters at its Thursday, September 7, meeting. “We need to be able to look at this at a high-level basis, to understand the total budget, as to where we are today and where we want to go,” said Butcher. “We as a Town Council must be cognizant of where our money goes to meet our goals, with a management process in place to ensure that we meet our strategy.”
“This is essential,” related Council Member Joanne Shamp, “as the Town is now 236% over its budget for the joint outfalls.” “This is our #1 issue,” agreed Council Member Anita Cereceda. “Until we are all onboard with the big picture plan, nothing is more critical, because we are just weeks away from crucial decisions that must be made.” “These decisions made with our backs up against the wall have to stop,” said Vice Mayor Tracey Gore.
The Town Manager examined the Town’s financial viability and strengths, stressing that all his assignments must be done by the end of September, due to the budgetary cycle. These include recommendations on the subsidization of its parks and cultural resources that are the Mound House, Bay Oaks Recreation Center, Newton Park, the Fort Myers Beach Community Pool and the Mooring Field that comprise the majority of the Town’s annual budget. He will present by then as well the Payroll Budget with salaries and benefits; a Capital Improvement Plan; building up the Town’s financial reserves and suggesting alternative funding sources.
Council set other objectives to be complete by the conclusion of 2017: a Short-Term Rental Program, with Shamp saying only half-in-jest: “This is a priority for all of us; can we have it done by tomorrow,” and Gore imploring that council “get this done in time for this season.” Mayor Dennis Boback proposed a trial transportation enhancement to reroute a number of Downtown streets near the Matanzas Pass Bridge to reduce congestion, with demonstrations both prior to and in season. Council found this so intriguing it immediately set a special Management & Planning session to solely discuss this on Tuesday, August 22, in Town Hall at 9 a.m.
Other 2017 projects are the Comprehensive Parking Plan; settling additional transportation enhancements such as electric bicycles, pedicabs and trolleys; and improving Town Hall mass communication technology including social media.
2018 & Beyond
Priorities set for the first half of 2018 are establishing a Property Maintenance Code for island neighborhoods; Beach & Bay Policy for the end of streets; Dock & Canal Policies; an improved mechanism for Council to disseminate policy direction; review & update the mission and policies for Community Development; establish a Post-Disaster Reconstruction Ordinance ahead of next hurricane season; FEMA mapping & CRS ratings; gather and effectively use public feedback; enhance the Town’s information outreach; collect feedback at point of services; use feedback when making decisions and reviewing goals; conduct an annual survey; and construct an outreach policy.
Projects for the second half of 2018 and beyond are updates to Times Square including a new waterline; landscape & streetscape enhancements; welcoming gateways; beach & shoreline management; water quality; Bayfront Square improvements; Heart of the Island Civic Center plan; protection and enhancement of the Mound House, Bay Oaks Recreational Center, Newton Park, Fort Myers Beach Community Pool and Mooring Field; and Town Hall improvements.
After setting these, Lorna seemed to read Council’s collective mind by asking, “What do we do next? I will send this to you for your review, to see if you want to make corrections. If you are fine with it, finalize it and review it quarterly, starting in December, because if we do not pay attention to these dates, the plan will not succeed. You agreed on priorities and did great in the process, and we need all of us to make this work. Every one of you has so much passion and comes from such a good place, and you are making your little piece of the world a better place – you really are!”