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Mayor presents ideas at Lee delegation meeting

December 11, 2013
By BOB PETCHER ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Fort Myers Beach Mayor Alan Mandel pitched two important issues pertaining to Town needs at the Lee County Legislative Delegation Meeting at Edison State College last week.

Mandel, who was among the county municipality officials that made presentations on Dec. 3, spoke about a voluntary annexation of Mound Key and other smaller islands between Estero Island and the historic island as well as a proposed use of an infrastructure sales surtax for such services as water utility and stormwater facilities.

"As far as how the presentations went, I think we got our points across," he said. "Previously, I had talked to (delegation officials) individually about (the issues), so now we'll see where it all goes from there."

For the voluntary annexation of 100-acre island that is approximately one mile from the south end of the Beach and related islands to become reality, all island property owners have to consent. That involves the McGee family, the only private property owner on Mound Key, and the state of Florida. The Town is looking to add a "passive park" there.

During a recent Council meeting, Mandel admitted he had conversations with Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who relayed that she "very much liked the idea of a passage park being the ultimate goal" on the island. He also said Town Manager Terry Stewart spoke to one of the advisors of Estero -the municipality hopeful that is working towards a township incorporation- and he believes from that conversation that there is no interest on their part in trying to incorporate Mound Key as part of it becoming a municipality.

The Beach mayor stated he had already spoken to the McGee family about a pre-annexation agreement and to Fowler White & Boggs' Keith Arnold, who represents the Town through legislative/lobbying services at the state level. No state consent has come forward as of yet.

The voluntary process does not require any action on the part of the county delegation since it is a voluntary action. An involuntary one would require a hearing and an urban services plan that would need to be filed with the Lee County Board of County Commissioners.

The voluntary annexation would give the Town of Fort Myers Beach more land mass that thus could reduce its insurance rate by some $500,000, says Mandel. This procedure would have to go through the Governor's office.

"That (presentation) was more informational to them," Mandel said. "I just wanted to explain we have no conflict with Bonita Springs or Estero."

As far as the local-option infrastructure sales surtax, Mandel stated the County delegation recognizes many state municipalities have issues with water utility and stormwater within their townships, and that matter will be looked into more closely at the state level.

The alternative tax revenue source, which could involve a sales surtax of 0.5 to 1 percent, could be used to relieve the burden on the small number of resident taxpayers -roughly only 7,000 full-timers- and transfer a lot of the payment responsibility to the many tourists -more than five times more than full-time residents- who use Fort Myers Beach. In turn, the funding source would be used only to help finance an extensive water utility project that is beginning on the island.

According to state law, a local-option infrastructure sales tax is only available through local county government, says Arnold. If Lee County wishes to impose it, then those officials could enter into a revenue-sharing program with each municipality within their jurisdiction.

The Florida League of Cities -the united voice for Florida's municipal governments- will keep addressing this matter.

"We have support from other small communities like Destin and New Smyrna Beach and eight of the largest cities in the state that are interested as well because we all have infrastructure issues," said Mandel.

Though there were no questions posed after both presentations, Mandel thought the presentations went well. He says he will continue to work with local legislative delegation officials, including Sen. Benacquisto, Sen. Garrett Richter, Rep. Matt Caldwell, Rep. Ray Rodriguez and Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen.

"I would like to thank them for the opportunity to come before them and share these proposals in the interest of our town," said Mandel. "We just wanted our senators and representatives to know about these issues so that they can be supportive of them."



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