Ask the Candidate
In preparation for the March 7th Town Council election, the Sand Paper asked candidates about Town/County relations this week. This is the second and final candidate question on a topic of interest to Island residents. Their answers are printed here in reverse alphabetical order. This week’s question:
How important is the Town’s relationship with Lee County? If elected, how would you work to improve that relationship, provided you think it needs improvement?
Ber Stevenson’s response:
“Lee County is important to Fort Myers Beach, and FMB is just as important to Lee County. Our Town generates over $340 million in Lee County expenditures. FMB pays 5% of its bed tax income and 6% of its tourism tax income to Lee County directly. FMB annually contributes an estimated $12 million to this pot of money, which is administered by the Tourism Development Council. In return, FMB receives TDC money back from Lee County each year in amounts ranging from $1 million to $2 million. That is not a very equitable exchange.
“If elected, I would focus on reversing this flow of money. Our Town needs to work harder to identify and promote prospective projects for TDC funding, which could draw more tourists and offset costs of the Town related to tourism. FMB could have better and more clear inter-local agreements for services provided by Lee County to FMB.
“Lee County could deed the “Seafarer’s” and Crescent Beach properties to FMB so that WE could decide how they will be utilized and developed. We should not have to depend on the kindness of Lee County to do the right thing here (remember DiamondHead).
“We are in the middle of the Estero Boulevard construction project, which is being led by Lee County. I say we finish the project as currently planned, analyze it to make sure it works, and then go full steam, only in off-season 24/7.
“Together, with mutual respect, FMB and Lee County can do great things.”
Joanne Shamp’s response:
“The Town’s relationship with Lee County is critical to many of our local services and to mutual interests like water quality and transportation.
“As an independent municipality, we must work cooperatively with the county through interlocal agreements for our drinking water, solid waste removal, law enforcement, stormwater management, Bay Oaks afterschool, public school planning, collection of ad valorem taxes, beach maintenance, election services and more. The County owns and maintains major infrastructure here – Lynn Hall, Bowditch, north Estero beach accesses and our Estero Boulevard.
“Every effective relationship takes effort and has room for improvement based on open communication, mutual respect and clear detailing of needs and expectations. The boulevard project is a current example. The project benefits our community in the long-term, but impacts continuing for three to five years could hurt both the county and the town as business and property values decline. Our Town must communicate precisely our desired improvements for safety, traffic flow management, road design features, quality of life issues and rapid relocation of county construction staging away from the entrance to our community.
“The town should negotiate for increased shares of bed tax, gas tax and other revenues to pay for town maintenance and infrastructure costs that support the large numbers that visit our community annually providing significant financial benefit to Lee County.
“Much can be accomplished if we work together with the county for our mutual best interest and the welfare of the residents, property owners and businesses of our town.”
Forrest “Butch” Critser’s response:
“Fort Myers Beach provides Lee County with hundreds of millions of dollars each year from our tourism industry and plays an integral role in the economic stability of the county. Our residents, businesses and visitors create jobs and tax revenues for the county. In turn, we rely on Lee County for many critical services such as law enforcement and maintenance of county roads and parks.
“The relationship between the town and county needs to be a mutually beneficial partnership based on open and honest communication and cooperation aimed at achieving the goals that best serve our residents and taxpayers. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Because of divides on our own council, the inability to present a united front representing our stakeholders, and the lack of relationship between members of the county and the town, the system is not working for those it was created to serve – the taxpayers.
“One of the themes I have based my campaign on is bringing civility back to government. We as a town need to come together on behalf of our constituents and present the county with a united voice on the direction of our town. We then need to rebuild relations with members of the BOCC and the county staff, putting the past behind us and changing our focus to be on the taxpayers. Once our priorities are rightly aligned, we can and will begin making Fort Myers Beach the best place in the world to live and visit.”
Anita Cereceda’s response:
“Our success as a small Town is magnified when we work in harmony with the County, other municipalities and our state legislature to achieve our goals. Our relationship with the County is critical to the Estero Boulevard project and the construction that affects our lives on a daily basis. Our staff has done a yeoman’s job of working well with County level officials involved in that project. Of course water quality issues are paramount to our community and cooperation with other governmental agencies is essential to achieving our goals of improving and protecting our Beach and Bay.
“It is critical that we create an atmosphere of cooperation with Lee County with regard to the redevelopment of our downtown. As you know, the property at the foot of the bridge, Seafarers Village, is currently being used as a staging area and belongs to the county. The last word was that there was no other “use” planned for the site.
“There are opportunities for the County, the Town and FDOT to sit together to solve major issues that plague this community that should not be squandered. I remain hopeful that with honest conversations, with all entities at the table, we can create something this island can be proud of so that the foot of the bridge is as inviting as the view from the top!”
Bruce Butcher’s response:
“When the various levels of government are not working together and putting the best interest of residents and taxpayers first, they are failing the people they serve. The Town of Ft Myers Beach and Lee County should be working together as partners towards common goals focused on the needs of our community. Unfortunately, the existing relationship needs a great deal of improvement.
“One could start with Seafarers Plaza and the fact that the county does not have a plan for it, other than as a staging area for construction. This has been an ongoing issue for years but Ft Myers Beach leaders have not led and encouraged the county to act strategically in both our interest. Instead, a letter was sent asking the BOCC what their plan was for Seafarers. The BOCC read the later, disputed that the area was legally blighted and concluded the county needed it for construction. It seems a better idea would have been for our Town Council to meet with the BOCC to explain our needs and concerns and work together for a solution.
“So how to do we improve our relationship? First, we must agree upon our strategic visions for our community and then begin open and honest communications between members of the BOCC and Town Council. Leadership and cooperation is essential in building that partnership. The county and town will both benefit from a positive working relationship based upon the best interest of our residents.”