Earlier this year Fort Myers Beach Town Manager Roger Hernstadt told the town council the town was in “sound financial shape.” This week he proposed a budget with huge fee hikes on everything from weddings to using the gym at Bay Oaks to the town pool. And there’s a millage rate increase being considered.
It all began Tuesday when Hernstadt told the Bay Oaks committee that the town might have to forgo its beach renourishment project or ditch plans to light Estero Boulevard if they didn’t increase fees at Bay Oaks and the pool. Residents on Fort Myers Beach have been able to use the gym at Bay Oaks at no charge and there hasn’t been an increase in any fees at Bay Oaks for 11 years. Several years ago the town borrowed $10 million for 3 major projects. One of them was a new Bay Oaks campus. About $5.5 million will be used to build the new facility. However the town doesn’t have any money to put anything in the new building, ie; fixtures, furniture, equipment, etc.
Hernstadt’s 2022-2023 budget also includes big fee increases on licenses for chair rental businesses, jet ski and parasail operations, and anyone that wants to get married on a beach access. Mooring field rates would also go up if the budget is approved.
Here are some of the proposed fee increases. They certainly could change before final budget is approved.
1 week – $15.00 6 months – $150
1 month – $40.00 1 year – $250
1 year – $60.00
1 week – $25.00 6 months – $300
1 month – $75.00 1 year – $500
1 year – $125.00
1 week – $20.00 6 months – $300
1 month – $55.00 1 year – $500
1 year – $75.00
1 week – $40.00 6 months – $600
1 month – $85.00 1 year – $1,000
1 year – $150.00
The Bay Oaks Fitness center fees, which are now free, have been proposed to go to:
$50 per individual (resident) for 6 months
$100 per individual (resident) for 1 year
$100 per family (resident) for 6 months
$200 per family (resident) for 1 year
$100 per individual (non-resident) for 6 months
$200 per individual (Non-resident) for 1 year
$200 per family (non-resident) for 6 months
$400 per family (non-resident) for 1 year.
Special event fees
Now: $100 for the first day and $1 for every additional day.
Proposed: $100 for the first day and $100 for every day after that.
In addition to the fee hikes, the town is also considering raising the millage rate.
The millage rate now is .95 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation. The town council has approved a starting point of .99 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation. The final number could come down, but it cannot go higher than the .99. If the council votes in the millage rate increase it will bring in an additional $170,000 to the town. Skyrocketing property values will also net the town an additional $660,000 in revenue.
The challenge Hernstadt is having is coming up with money for all the projects the town council wants accomplished. A few of them are extremely expensive. Here’s the list Hernstadt provided last month:
– Electric charging stations ($115,000)
– Beach renourishment ($3.5 million)
– Estero Boulevard street lights (cost unknown)
– Workforce Housing (between $0 and $6 million according to Hernstadt)
– Bay Oaks furniture, fixtures and equipment for the new building (cost not given)
– A new parking app ($125,000 plus $15,000 per year)
– Community Policing and special detail policing (several hundred thousand)
– What to do with the property the town purchased for $1 million behind town hall.
These projects are in addition to the new Bay Oaks building, Bayside Park and Times Square. The town borrowed $10 million for those projects which is not expected to cover all the costs.
Hernstadt told the town council if there was no add-on list the town would be fine. He said even if the millage rate was increased, Fort Myers Beach would still be in the bottom 10 of all the municipalities in the state (in terms of millage rate per $1,000 of assessed property valuation).
Fort Myers Beach incorporated in the mid 1990’s, breaking away from Lee County to slow the growth of the high-rise buildings, and under the mantra of ‘Government Lite.” The town now has a population of full-time residents of about 5,500. That’s down from 6,400 in 2019, according to Lee County figures.