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Push is on to do away with borrowing limits

Hosafros educating residents on charter-amendment requests

February 17, 2016
By John Morton ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

With the vote less than a month away, the sales pitch regarding the Fort Myers Beach town charter referendum is at full speed with Town Council member Rexann Hosafros at the helm.

The former lawyer and judge admits she's a bit of a civics nerd, so it's an area of passion. On Thursday, she broke down the 21-question referendum to those on hand at the Fort Myers Beach Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast, held at Pincher's in the Wyndham Garden Hotel. On March 15, voters will decide which suggestions they support, but one stands out so much it was thrust to the top of the ballot.

It's the matter of allowing the town to borrow or lease beyond its current three-year limit.

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Council member Rexann Hosafros, right, hands a copy of the upcoming charter referendum questions to Laura Hamel-Jones at Thursday's chamber of commerce meeting.

"That was fear back when we started (in 1995) that spending could get out of control," Hosafros said. "As a result, it has strangled the town. We even had to put the potable (drinking) water project on the ballot (in 2013) because of this."

She said the limit has not only included big-ticket items, but it trickles down to something as simple as trying to lease a copier for more than three years and take advantage of more favorable rates.

"I could not find another city in the country that had this," Hosafros said of the restriction. "People don't even finance a car within three years anymore."

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In fact, the council even considered it appearing alone, if not for the need to include several other matters - the fallout of the fact the council in 2005 rejected bringing to the voters any and all of the suggestions brought forth from the town's Charter Review Committee. That group studies the charter every 10 years.

"Why are there so many questions? That's why," she said. "There were things that should have fixed 10 years ago and we couldn't wait another 10 years on them."

Hosafros said a risk exists that the extensive list could overwhelm voters, prompting them to simply answer no to them all because of the burden of reading them, but she hopes educating the voters will lessen that.

"I'm available to speak to any group about this," she said.

Furthermore, the questions have been put in summary form to assist voters, but the downside is that the original language is not visible to show they change, Hosafros added.

Back to getting the drinking-water project on the ballot two years ago, it wasn't so easy when you consider the charter required 25 percent of registered voters to sign a petition to agree to a referendum vote. The council is now asking voters to lessen that threshold to 15 percent.

"You have to talk to five people here to find one registered voter, what with all the snowbirds who aren't full-time residents, and I went through that trying to gather signatures when I ran for council - and all I needed was 51," said Hosafros, who noted 15 percent equals about 750 residents compared to about 1,250 at 25 percent.

Never in the town's 20-year history have residents forced a referendum through a petition drive.

Term limits are also on the ballot. One asks if they should be abolished entirely, while another asks a term increase from the current three years to four with a limit of two terms. Hosafros supports the idea of no term limits, saying few people here are looking to make council life a career at an annual salary of $14,400, but she'll gladly take the lesser increase as a consolation prize.

"I'm at two years (of her three-year term) and I'm just now understanding how everything works," she said.

Furthermore, having odd-number council terms for two seats that stagger against the other three seats means an annual election each year when every-other year there is nothing else on the ballot.

"It costs about $20,000 for the county to set up and staff every election," Hosafros said.

At four years, elections would be staggered to be held only on odd years (winners of this year's seats 1 and 2 would initially run only from 2016 through 2019).

Another item she highlighted was a suggested provision that sets a specific salary for the mayor and council members and provides a method for annual adjustment. If the suggestion is approved, council members would see a hike up to a bit above $16,000. Currently, the council can vote-in any salary increase it wants, but it has never happened.



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