The referendum regarding a Town Hall is being voted on Jan. 31, 2012. Even though it is a Republican Primary all registered voters are being encouraged to come out and vote on this referendum.
What is the referendum asking you to vote on? Do you want the Town of Fort Myers Beach to pursue establishing a permanent town hall at the best cost for the taxpayers? Does this mean that the council wants to vacate its present address and spend $7 million on a new building? Does this mean that the council wants to replace, if possible, a $100,000 rent with an $80,000 mortgage payment that goes away after 30 years? Why wasn't it stated that way on the referendum?
It is always puzzling when you see so many ads regarding referendums telling you to vote 'no' if you mean 'yes' or if you read it this way it means the other way, you get the picture.
Let me begin by explaining how the language for this referendum was written. What you are really reading are attorneys talking to attorneys, which may ultimately be deciphered by a judge. From my perspective as a businessman, justification would lend itself to expense versus need, instead. Some of that work has taken place already, but before allocating resources to work in more detail, it is imperative that we get permission from our islanders.
Why make it so complicated? The best example of that actually happened here on the beach. It began with the water replacement referendum that was passed with better than a 90 percent approval. Five long years later, I sat and watched town staff and town attorneys present to a judge for a final validation hearing to make sure that the wording was legal before we were authorized to begin the project. The very reason that the water referendum that was passed was so easy to read was also the very reason why the legality of it was questioned.
This council was advised that our town charter requires that the town must ask permission from our citizens in the form of a referendum to exceed any debt commitments longer than three years, that the referendum must have legal wording that states the purpose and the 'most' money that it can cost, that all capital expenditures that pledge any ad valorem tax dollars requires a referendum. This council unanimously voted in favor of placing this question to the voters. We have talked about it long enough.
The Town has enjoyed recent success with many projects that have been on the shelf for many years at much less cost than originally projected. As a result, we can now identify and recognize money that is on hand that is available that might completely pay for some scenarios and options that are being considered. Simply stated, we most likely have enough liquid assets on hand to finance this project. But again, the criteria for capital spending using tax dollars does not exclude savings, it still counts. It was tax dollars when it was collected, and it still fits the same criteria. The citizens have a right to vote on it.
Another observation, if this referendum passes, why doesn't the town just spend the money on hand and be done with it. Many feel those that will benefit from the facility for the next 20 to 30 years should also share the expense of it, rather than those that happen to own property and pay taxes the past few years, some whom will never use it. From a policy perspective, I agree.
The most obvious scenario that is being discussed is eminent domain. The council directed staff to get an appraisal done of the current building. It was $1.1 million. Why not just declare eminent domain, take the money out of our bank and pay for it? If this is not done properly, the owner of the property could easily persuade a judge that the town did not exhaust all the options and alternatives that are available to them before 'taking' the property. Certainly that option may be the most attractive financially but again we must focus our resources to ensure that it is true and best.
With your permission, which means a vote in favor of the referendum, we will be discussing and planning all the choices available in public forum. Without your approval, without this project, we will continue to work on many other priorities of the town.
Personally, pursuing a permanent location only makes sense. Once this would pass, there is still a lot of work to do in order to make the best choice for the right price.
Council held two Town Hall Meetings specific to the referendum and has published a fact sheet in News Press, The Beach Observer and Island Sandpaper. The information is also available on the Town website. Each of the council have committed to submitting their reasons for bringing the referendum forward. In the end of this process, it is the voter's that will decide, but only if you vote.