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Referendum question brings back controversial issue

January 18, 2012
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

To the editor:

It is easy to understand why the directors of the Fort Myers Beach Civic Association would be opposed to the Town building or buying a town hall at the maximum cost of $7 million, but it is then impossible to understand why they did not oppose the library expansion, which has cost us $9 million. Perhaps it's because part of the Association's mission is to "vigorously insist on accountability of our town government." Why not include accountability on the independent tax authorities such as the library and fire department?

Over the years I have done more than my fair share of complaining about several Town Councils, but the Civic Association directors seem to have a vendetta against the present one.

The Association directors have in fact supported the library expansion and in their recent letter to the Observer and Guest Opinion piece in the Island Sandpaper, make some puzzling assertions to justify their support for what the library director and his board HAS DONE with our taxes compared to what the council is asking our PERMISSION TO DO.

Quoting Town manager Stewart at a recent public meeting on the referendum. "There is a state law that if you're going to use ad valorem taxes, you must have a referendum and give an amount to give the public an idea of the scope of the project." There was no library referendum to ask for expansion, the nearest was a purported library survey showing community support but copies of which are not available.

Regarding scope, the Town estimates that it will need 11,000 to 12,000 square feet to provide a functioning town hall with meeting room and offices. Prior to expansion the library is already 14,921 square feet and after expansion will be a whopping 34,190 square feet, three times as large as the proposed town hall!

The Association directors complain of the bonds that would have to be issued by the town. Bonds are a method used by taxing entities to spread repayment over a long period so as not to incur massive temporary tax increases. According to the Association directors the library financed it's expansion "the old fashioned way it put money into savings to someday achieve the addition then borrowed $2 million of the $8 million it needed, a loan that is almost paid off."

Lets look at that statement in detail. Savings is a strange word to use in conjunction with a taxing authority. The ideal would be to tax just enough to cover what HAS to be spent. The library's saving consisted of massive increases in its mill rates. The loan was paid off in giant gulps. For example in 2009 the library collected $2,069,247 in taxes. It needed only $1,019,553 (49 percent) to run its operations and then used $1,106,929 (51 percent) on loan repayments. That's a heck of a way to "save" over $1 million in one year!

The town has held one and has scheduled another meeting on the proposed town hall. The Association directors however believe decisions were "made in a dark room." That same claim would have much more veracity applied to the library expansion planning.

Again we hear of the council helping a small group of library expansion opponents, no mention is ever made of the large group of 1,000+ people that signed the petition in opposition to the expansion.

It would be interesting to know what percentage of the Civic Association membership, said to be well over 600 strong, agrees with its directors (one of whom is also a library board member.) Perhaps they will insist on some independent thought rather than the Civic Association being the mouthpiece of Lee Melsek.

I will vote 'no' to the referendum; a new town hall is unnecessary. It will very soon become painfully obvious that the library expansion (which is bigger that the Bonita Springs town hall) will be a massive very much under-utilized white elephant. It is also larger than the proposed Fort Myers Beach town hall, so will provide the perfect solution. That is not a joke. The library building is not the property of its director or board of directors. It is a public building and therefore the property of the taxpayers, or more accurately those taxpayers who vote, and in the case of library matters get an opportunity to vote.

Peter Reid

Fort Myers Beach



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