Beach Mayor Alan Mandel spoke to the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce about recently completed Town projects and existing issues his Council members have been tackling during a breakfast meeting at Charley's Boat House Grill Thursday.
Mandel, who was elected mayor Monday night, has proudly taken the reins from a recovering Bob Raymond, who was mayor until he went on leave with health issues a little more than a month ago.
Called the "true citizen's soldier" by Beach Chamber President Bud Nocera, Mandel first mentioned the Town's success with balancing an overall budget during the financial crisis, then touched on other topics.
Beach Mayor Alan Mandel tells FMB Chamber members of the current projects that the Town of Fort Myers Beach is tackling, while Chamber President Bud Nocera listens in.
"During these hard economic times, we as a Town government have been able to control our expenses," he said. "Actually, during the past three to five years, you will find your Town taxes are the lowest per $100,000 that they have ever been over any other three- to five-year period. We are going to keep a focus on that."
Mandel discussed recent accomplishments like the North Estero Boulevard project, Newton Park, the Mound House excavation (and other focused parts of that property), beach nourishment and the water utility referendum that will allow Town officials to begin repair on the water system this year.
"We have been busy working with engineering companies and rate studies to get ready to implement the plans that will repair our outdated and insufficient water delivery system here on the Beach," he said. "This repair is coming and long overdue."
Mandel, a big supporter of the Arts and the community's history amenities, praised the Town, County and officials at Nervous Nellies Crazy Waterfront Eatery for their efforts to bring another historic tourism aspect to the Beach when the Lynx Privateer decided to make the island its winter port.
"Recent research shows that 80 percent of people who want to go on a vacation want to go somewhere where there is an educational experience. So, if you combine the Lynx, Mound House Newton Park, Matanzas Pass Preserve and our historic cottages, we've got the base of real good reasons why people should come here and enjoy themselves," he said.
The Town's ability to take over Bay Oaks Recreational Campus from County officials, who wanted to close it due to financial stress, was applauded. Any Beach taxpayer now can enjoy it with free membership, which has more than doubled since January.
"I think it's a big secret," said Mandel. "There are great facilities over there. Since you are paying taxes, you are paying for it. I hope you take advantage of it because you deserve it."
The combined grouping of Estero Boulevard, traffic mitigation and water utility implementation three items linked together and should be handled as such- is next up on the agenda tap for Council members.
"Those projects need to be done together to minimize the inconvenience to our residents and guests," said Mandel. "It's going to be important over the next couple of months to work with the County Commissioners to get those projects coordinated and started at the same time."
Securing a long lease for Town Hall and developing the Seafarer's area also needs attention. Town officials have asked County officials to take the lead in the development of the project at the foot of Matanzas Bridge.
"The parcel down there should not only be used for guests and residents, it may also help mitigate traffic," said Mandel. "We need to study that and work with County commissioners to get started."
Coastal navigation and beach nourishment are other issues that Mandel feels strongly about. Due to an existing permit, a recently completed dredging of Matanzas Pass placed sand offshore by the completed nourishment project on the north end of the island. Unfortunately, sand is needed by Newton Park where the island bends in the middle.
"We tried talking to the Army Corps of Engineers about moving (the sand placement) one mile south. But, given the emergency nature and timing, there wasn't a way to work it out," said Mandel. "What we need to do now is start working with the County about a new permit."
Town officials have hired a consultant group to do a historical perspective of the island for a coastal management plan. The group, called Coast & Harbor Engineering, is now studying what the wind and tide are doing with regards to the movement of sand around Estero Island. Recommended solutions towards nourishment should come forth after that phase.
"Our work with the County is a key thing to me," said Mandel. "I think we have good communication channels open.
Marketing the Beach is a key component for the Town.
"We want to make our island a place where people want to come back," said Mandel. "We have a tremendous opportunity to market our island. We have to make sure we manage it to enhance the experience for everybody."