Thursday’s Management & Planning session will not go down as one of the Town Council’s best meetings. The council spent over an hour trying to come up with items they want to discuss with the Lee County Board of Commissioners, only to decide in the end, that asking for that meeting would be a bad idea.
The council discussed several projects before coming to the conclusion that the county probably wouldn’t even take their meeting. There really would be no reason for all 5 Lee County Commissioners to meet with all 5 Fort Myers Beach Town Council members. That’s because the town council is constantly asking Lee County to give them something, yet offers them nothing in return. They nixed the meeting because they realized they had nothing to give.
Here are a few examples.
One item the town wants to meet with the county about is the landscaping at the foot at the Matanzas Pass Bridge. When the state finishes the project that area will be turned over to Lee County. It will include lush landscaping adding some much needed greenery to what is now a concrete welcome mat.
The County wants the town to take over the maintenance of that landscaping. However, Town Manager Roger Hernstadt does not want to take on the liability that goes along with manicuring the shrubbery. So, the county’s response will most likely be, ‘OK, we’ll just put sod or rocks down, rather than nice landscaping, if the town doesn’t want to take on the responsibility.‘ That didn’t sit well with councilman Jim Atterholt who wants to see the entrance to the island as beautiful as it can be. Rocks and sod won’t cut it.
The town has zero leverage on this issue. They either take over the landscaping and the liability so the entrance to Fort Myers Beach is a well-manicured welcoming on-ramp to their island, or they get dirt and rocks. Why would Lee County even consider turning over landscaping responsibilities to the town and keep the liability? They wouldn’t.
Another issue is, once again, the lights on Estero Boulevard. Even though Lee County has repeatedly told the town they would not be contributing any more money to help the town light the boulevard, other than $1.4 million for the crosswalks, the money issue continues to come up. For some reason, Mayor Ray Murphy still believes Lee County should pay for the lights, and, they should pay for the amber lights that the town council wants.
After Murphy’s attempted negotiations to get the county to pay for the lights resulted in him storming out of a county board meeting, councilman Dan Allers took it upon himself to pick up the ball with Lee County and put together options. The boulevard is owned by Lee County so they have to be involved, through the permitting process at least.
Through conversations with Lee County staff, Allers has come up with a worst-case-scenario option. If needed, the county would do the work, installing new poles and amber lights on Estero boulevard. The town would have to pay for all the work, paying the county back over several years. Allers wants to continue those discussions at the same time FPL is testing an amber light that might be covered under the FPL Tariff (the best case scenario). If the light passes the FPL test, problem solved. If it fails, the town would have Allers’ plan B with Lee County.
Mayor Ray Murphy jumped into the discussion with Allers on Thursday saying in all the years the town has been discussing the lights with Lee County, nothing has been resolved. “It’s long overdo to settle it, and resolve it, and the only way is to put the two bodies in a room and work it out.”
Allers disagreed, stating all he’s trying to do is propose a start to a resolution. “It’s as close as we’ve ever been.”
A flustered Murphy interrupted Allers by saying, “That’s all well and good, and we’re willing to listen to all that. I want to hear it out of the horses mouth (Lee County). I want to hear it from them. Now is the time to sit down and see where the rubber meets the road. Let’s get them in a room and let’s hammer it out Everything is on the table, but there has to be a table to discuss it. You bring your option forward, they bring their option forward. That has to be the way it has to be.”
At an earlier town council meeting when councilman Jim Atterholt suggested a thawing of relations with Lee County, Murphy, who’s up for re-election in November, lashed out at Atterholt calling him “inexperienced.”
The reality is that’s not the way it has to be but Murphy doesn’t see that. For the record, despite what Murphy says, the county doesn’t have to bring an option to the table. They own the table. They own the chairs. And they own all the cards on the table. They’ve made it crystal clear. They are not contributing any additional funds to light Estero Boulevard. Full stop. The County just spent $80 million to rebuild Estero Boulevard. They are spending millions more to rebuild the Big Carlos Pass Bridge. They are moving forward with the design phase of the 42 Estero boulevard crosswalks they committed to light. And, from the works Allers has done, they appear to be willing to install poles and lights, as long as the town foots the bill.
Lee County has always been crystal clear to the town. Lee County offers a certain level of service to each municipality. If a municipality wants services on top of what the county offers they have to pay for it themselves. It’s no different for Cape Coral, Sanibel, Bonita Springs or any other town in the county.
Not even mentioned at the meeting Thursday was that the town is going to want to cooperate with Lee County for a flashing traffic light at Lenell Road, a dangerous crosswalk on Estero Boulevard by Santini Plaza.
After going round and round for nearly two hours the council decided requesting a meeting with Lee County could wait.