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Town sets millage rate at .9500

September 25, 2019
By JORDAN HESTER ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Last Monday the Town of Fort Myers Beach had its final public hearing for the 2019-2020 Budget.

The millage rate has been set at .9500, which means the town, going forward, will tax homes at $.9500 per $1,000.

The final budget has been set at 20,361,610.

The budget was passed 4-1, with Councilmember Joanne Shamp voting against on the principle that she believed the current millage was enough to keep funding for projects.

"Being a coastal barrier island, there's no shortage of reasons why funding is needed constantly. Construction is incredibly expensive and we have to start putting away for these larger projects so we don't have to spike taxes later as a reaction," Councilmember Bruce Butcher said.

The takeaway, as a whole, is tax rates for Fort Myers Beach are still relatively low, especially when compared to any of their surrounding neighbors.

"We have a need to have funds available for anything that may come up. The current proposed budget lets us pay for anything that could occur," Vice Mayor Ray Murphy said.

Another main issue of contention during the public hearing portion is directly related to how the storm water utility funding is stocked and categorized. Some council members have proposed paying for excess stormwater utility needs through the general fund, which has met some public scrutiny.

Ordinance 18-20 was originally set up so that the Stormwater funding could be loaned in to by the General Fund instead of designating general funds specifically to the enterprise fund for stormwater. This is more for cleanliness and book keeping, but it also helps keep funding separate. It also allows for "any legally available funds to be allocated to utility spending."

"We have brought up several issues with the general fund being used for the storm water utility. The provision in ordinance 18-20 is made for funding storm water related usage," Charles Eck, representative for the Bay Beach community said during the hearing.

The Council, after some deliberation, agreed that the way to "agree to disagree" and get this portion of the budget passed is to move the funding over by calling it a "loan" from the general fund, though town council can pull from the general fund at any point.

The issue with this style of "loan" from the city to the city leads to a possible adjustment in the future of ERU (Equivalent Residential Unit) tax gathering to a higher degree.

The ERU number is calculated by taking the statistical average of impervious surface area of single-family residential units in the Town. This is directly related to rainfall, but is a taxing measure as well.

The measure was passed 3-2, with Councilmembers Rexann Hosafros and Joanne Shamp voting against.

Another point of note was a possible independent study of the town impacts to set new standards outside of Lee County's original measures.

"We haven't done one since the original one which was in the mid to late 90s. There is a lot of room here to have more defined impact fees," Jason Green, Fort Myers Beach Lead Planner said.

The Council will be looking into this funding in the future, once a larger conversation is held about it.

The town is also looking into the fees for recurring events, like farmers markets and the sunset celebrations in Times Square. Possible bulk fees are being written up so that businesses can pay for the entire year, or whatever their particular event usage density may be.

The average fees to business owners floats around $3,000, depending on usage.

The town's digital future also was discussed, not only with updating it's website, but possibly hiring a full-time employee to handle digital information dissemination, social media management, and marketing the town in a positive manner.

"I'm not really comfortable hiring someone to do this full time," Shamp said.

With a bit of a disagreement, Mayor Anita Cereceda explained how social media access was spread too thinly across the town's staff when it isn't in their specific purview.

"Digital consumption of information is 24/7 now," Cereceda said. "The website is a small example of this, but we still need to have someone to get Council and town standards out onto the internet, both social media and our channels, so that we can have a unified message."



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