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Councilman speaks on Town Hall Referendum

-- Guest Commentary --

January 25, 2012
By Joe Kosinski , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

All registered voters on Estero Island should turn out to vote on Jan. 31. Only registered Republican voters can vote on the presidential primary candidate, but all registered voters can vote on the bipartisan Referendum for Town Hall.

I thank all those who attended the Town Hall Meetings. Your input was greatly needed and appreciated.

The Referendum issue came about this past August during a work session (copies of minutes can be obtained at Town Hall). Town Hall's present lease came up during discussion. With two years left on our present lease, should the town consider a more permanent arrangement? A decision, such as this, cannot be made by the Council. The decision must be decided by the voters of our island in the form of a Referendum on a ballot. The cost to put this issue on the state ballot was minimal. The cost to put the Referendum on a separate, island ballot and conduct a special election is in the thousands.

The Oct. 1 deadline to place a referendum issue on the primary election date of Jan. 31 was rapidly approaching. Your Council decided to "ask the voters" and proceeded to have the referendum written, reviewed, approved, and sent to Lee County Board of Elections. The Town Hall meetings needed to be in January to present the issue to the most residents. January is building season with many northern residents back here on the island who able to participate. Additionally, Town Council did not meet in December.

Currently, the town pays around $100,000 per year for our present location, occupying 6,815 square feet. In addition, other Town services not located in the Town Hall have to include their leasing costs in their services charges to the Town. Leasing has its advantages and disadvantages. Our rent can fluctuate, up or down, depending upon the market. Our Town Manager recently negotiated a reduction in the rent amount we pay, but the future pricing can increase. The idea is to bring all Town operations (except Parks and Recreation) into Town Hall. This would enable us to save on the cost of such services as Beach Water since those service providers would no longer have to include the cost of their leased space in their charges to the Town.

One thought is to purchase the current property housing Town Hall, but the current owners of the existing property will have difficulty in selling the present property. This piece of land is tied into a trust with other lots and cannot be separated out without endangering the trust. However, should the present location property be sold to someone else, the new owner could tell us to vacate. Immediately finding adequate space on the island would be extremely difficult.

A decision regarding long-term financing cannot be made at council meetings. Residents attending the council meetings can have input, but they cannot speak for the entire island. We may have support and opposition to this issue, but at the end of the day, it must be presented in referendum form on a ballot for the entire island to decide.

The purchase of our own Town Hall building is a progressive move and over the long haul, it is a cost-saving move for the Town. I also feel that this idea will always be around and will keep coming back. Presently, the town's vehicles are stored outside with no protection. The town's staff is about built-out at our present location. A new building will provide consolidation of the Town's services, vehicle storage, a conference room, needed office space, storage and organization.

The $7 million came about as a maximum "guesstimate" within the time frame we have. I believe we estimated up to $2 million for property and the balance for the building. This does not mean that we will need to use all of the funds. Based upon the current total taxable value within the Town, the amount of additional millage would be .0271 per each million dollars of debt incurred on a 20-year borrowing. The total millage required if the full $7 million of debt is incurred would be .1897. This means a property with a taxable value of $200,000 would pay an additional $5.42 for each million dollars of debt. The cost for the $18 million water would be funded through adjustments to the utility rates over, I believe, 30 years and not ad valorem taxes.

The council will continue this discussion if the voters decide to move forward on Jan. 31. If the voters decide that now is not the time, we will not proceed. It is most important that you vote on Jan. 31.



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