Officials from the Town of Fort Myers Beach are interested to see if an alternative tax revenue source can relieve the burden on resident taxpayers and be used to help finance an upcoming water utility project that needs to be done on Estero Island.
At a recent Town Council meeting, Beach Mayor Alan Mandel entertained the proposed use of an infrastructure sales surtax as a way to help pay for waterlines replacement and related stormwater work that is projected to cost in the range of $20-$40 million. He believes that funding such a combined project as a small community with roughly 7,000 full-time residents may prove to be a difficult task.
"This would be state-wide and involves a sales surtax of 0.5 to 1 percent," the Beach mayor said. "The proceeds can only be used for infrastructure."
Next Tuesday (Dec. 3), Mandel will attend the Lee County Legislative Delegation Meeting at Edison State College where he expects to bring up the funding approach he learned about at a recent Florida League of Cities meeting. Mandel serves on the financial tax committee for that particular group, which acts as a united voice for Florida's municipal governments.
Requirements involve a vote of the municipalities' council and a referendum that would allow people from cities and towns across the state to vote on it.
"We are a small municipality with only 7,000 full-time residents," said Mandel. "As such, we get only limited state funds. Those few residents who pay taxes have to provide an infrastructure system that can service 40,000 people during our peak tourist season. The sales surtax would transfer payment responsibility from the small number of residents to the many tourists who use our beach. We are working on that, but it is not ready to come forward."
Mandel has spoken to Fowler White & Boggs' Keith Arnold, who represents the Town through legislative/lobbying services, about the proposal. Arnold was present at a recent Council meeting and commented on it.
"It seems inevitable that this issue will come up," he said. "For a number of years, most municipalities have been asking for the ability to implement a local sales tax on their own without going through the county commission."
Arnold stated that, at this time, a local-option infrastructure sales tax is only available through local county government according to state law.
"If they do impose it, then they enter into a revenue-sharing program with each municipality within their jurisdiction," he said.
So far, County has not taken that step. Arnold says an urban partnership may develop, but the matter may be difficult to get even into a discussion mode.
"Right now, (I think) we should be more inclusive than exclusive and bring in a larger constituency," he said. "It's fair to say, that the legislature has been very punitive in the past decade. You've received no relief in Tallahassee."
The issue is expected to be on the short list for the Florida League of Cities to address during the upcoming legislative session.
"There is no reason why this can't be part of it," Arnold said.
The 2014 Regular Legislative Session for the Florida Senate will convene on March 4, 2014.