Mooring Field Cost Taxpayers $157K Over 5-Year Period

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As a result of a freedom of information request with the Town of Fort Myers Beach we’ve received the mooring field financials for 2015 to 2019. Over those 5 years Fort Myers Beach taxpayers have subsidized the mooring field by contributing $157,363 to the operation.

How the mooring field operates has come under scrutiny lately, after Finance Director Joe Onzick told the Anchorage Advisory Committee Fort Myers Beach residents have subsidized the mooring field every year but one. Vice Mayor Jim Atterholt has been pushing town staff for years to get the mooring field operation to break even. He reiterated that position Sunday on Beach Talk Radio.

Last week we reported Onzick made public financial numbers that the previous Town Manager Roger Hernstadt would never share with the Anchorage Advisory Committee or the community. In several slides Onzick laid out how much the mooring field has cost taxpayers through the years and what it would take to get the operation to break even. By state law, the mooring field is not allowed to turn a profit. However, it is allowed to break even.

From the new financial documents, the mooring field operation was $96,861 in the red in fiscal 2015, $20,363 in the red in fiscal 2016, $16,512 in the red in fiscal 2017, $16,324 in the red in fiscal 2018 and $7,300 in the red in fiscal 2019. The biggest expense in 2015 was $88,000 for “Operations and Maintenance.”

Revenue from user fees for those five years was as follows: $145,233 in 2015, $164,549 in 2016, $178,679 in 2017, $168,019 in 2018 and $156,000 in 2019. The town also receives money for pump-out services and grant funds.

Between 2015 and 2022 Fort Myers Beach residents have subsidized the mooring field to the tune of $432,541. 2021 was the only year the mooring field did not lose money.

The mooring field is now open to 77 boats. The charge per mooring ball is $410.00 per month. Boaters are allowed to stay on a mooring ball for up to 6 months. The town says the benefit of having a mooring field is to be a town friendly to boaters, and, because boaters spend money at restaurants bars and retail shops on the island. Boaters do not otherwise pay any taxes to the town.

Onzick says a revenue replacement bridge loan from the state back in April of 2023 is helping to cover some of the recent revenue shortfalls for the mooring field. And, if the Governor signs the state budget on July 1st, money from $15 million the state is sending to Fort Myers Beach will also be used.

The town is currently without a Harbormaster to run the mooring field operation. However, a new hire from out of the area is expected to be announced soon.

For years the town has rented upland facilities for the boaters (bathrooms, laundry, etc) from Matanzas Inn. Over the years, the town has explored building a new upland facility. They considered several locations including Bayside Park (which local residents protested against vigorously) and behind the old town hall building. That lot, which the town purchased for $2 million several years ago, has sat empty ever since the purchase. Residents who live on Tropical Shores Way revolted against the idea of building upland facilities on that spot because a canal that shoots through their backyards would have been used.

31 COMMENTS

  1. The town is now looking at dredging the canal on the north side of Tropical shores way. I was informed by a city official that a human. Waste dumping facility is being considered at the “old town hall” site. This sleepy back water canal will become a toxic waste site. It is disgusting how this small town is squandering our taxes on non-resident projects that have little to no benefits. Phil tropical shores way.

  2. Boaters are allowed to stay on a mooring ball for up to 6 months. Right!!! I’ve seen the same boats at the same mooring ball for a couple of years now.

  3. Who benefited from this? Whose friends benefited from this? Why did the former city manager keep this a secret? Answer those questions and you’ll know what was going on.

  4. For years I have looked at the Mooring Balls from my home facing Matanzas pass. What I have observed is mostly Sea Tramps living in what appear to be nothing more than Garbage Scows. Not sure what they contribute to the economy. To me, it is a security risk. My vote would be to remove the Mooring Balls or turn it over to a “for profit” organization.

      • Fred invite them to live with you if you are concerned. Sure they will gladly take up the offer. List your address so they can come over to shower, eat do laundry. That would be the right thing to do according to your philosophy

  5. Good for Joe Onzick for revealing the numbers. Incredible that the numbers previously weren’t available even to the Anchorage Advisory Committee. Now that the numbers are out in the open, I have faith this dialog will lead to improvements.
    Regarding other Town departments, can BTR take a look at Beach Water? Don’t get me wrong, the staff is as nice as can be. But Beach Water rates seem to be double what they are for unincorporated Lee County (and increasing at 8% per year). I may be mistaken, but I think they just buy the water from Lee County. Seems like something worth investigating.

    • I think it’s time to call Rodger Hernstadt back it to answer some questions. Of course it will take a subpoena because he’s too small a man to own up to this.

      • The Town needs an Internal Audit I’ve been calling for one for years, I’m sure a lot of skeleton’s will show up, we’ve had the same folks in office ruining this town into the ground with no accountability.

        • Never happen as two members of the town council were onboard when Roger was there so regardless if they knew they’d be inadvertently in on any wrongdoing. That’s exactly why there hasn’t been an outside state audit

  6. OK, licence the mooring field in sections to the Marinas, they can set the rent and provide the facilities for the boaters. Boaters are likely to get cheaper and better facilities as competition would drive a better service. The licence pays for FMB to do any admin surrounding running the scheme.

  7. $400 a month is ridiculously high. I think the harbor system should be analyzed, A mooring ball in Chicago costs about $1,300 for the year, and they remove and replace the mooring ball each season with a crane-barge. San Diego rates are less than $160 a month http://www.sandiegomooring.com/rates.htm. Some thing doesn’t seem right.

  8. Can we get a breakdown of “operations and maintenance”? How many employees, full/ part time, job title/ description/benefit costs/salary and hourly rates. And any other large categories. Overall in some town departments we seem to be employee heavy and others need additional help.

    • If they are a full-time employee with the Town of Fort Myers Beach, they typically started as of 2022, full-time employees at the lpwest end at $17/hour at 40 hours/week. Plus full-time employees have full benefits as they rightfully should of health, vision, dental, 401k, and life insurances.

      The town barely wants to give part-time employees hours, know several and they work under 15 hours a week. They had a lot of staffing changes due to harassment from higher ups (council and manager), and its become one cliqué group, the kids who peaked in high school.

  9. Mooring fields are common in Florida and coastal areas – so there are good models including a balanced approach for the economy-costs and revenues. Our beach community is very popular with boaters. It’s important to understand the nuances in the math/ the town through grants often included sheriff patrol of the waterways and capital outlays sometimes create losses that really are paid by offsetting grants as well. I agree with the Vice-Mayor but breaking even is a goal- but not a typical requirement for most community services.

    • Agree that why towns go broke can’t balance a budget. Nothing should lose money if it’s a service someone is paying for. Business high school class will teach you that. You don’t operate in the negative. Plain stupidness to think that is a good option

  10. In the past it didn’t cost anything to anchor in the area. Currently it costs the boaters and the tax payers. Who is winning here?

  11. Where does the large expense to operate a mooring field come from? If it’s not self sufficient, you have two choices:
    1. Shut it down
    2. Raise the rent
    Most look like derelict boats

  12. So it is stated that by law the mooring field cannot make a profit.
    2021 they had a profit of $37,000.00.
    So is there a penalty for that ?

    • John, My understanding is the Mooring Field can make a profit, but those funds need to be invested back into the Mooring Field operations.

  13. A true economic analysis would include the impact to the local economy the Mooring Field provides. Has this been done. If not maybe it needs to for better decision making.

    • This isn’t rocket science. The town is set to lose about 350K this year. From my observational analysis it seems that most of the boats just use this as cheap storage for their boats and very few are occupied. I would be surprised if there is more than 12 people on average living on the field. by the look of some of the boats I doubt all are even paying.

      They are being charged less than it costs to store my 23ft boat at a marina – if you shut the field they can pay the marinas instead of the town losing thousands each year.

      There is a false narrative that the facility supports the local businesses. Given the number of people living on board their boats – the town would be better just shutting down the field and giving them 50K each to spend in the bars as this would increase their spend in the town.

      Someone should go through the field today and count the boats and people they see moored up – no way is it 93%. Anyway there are plenty of marinas that will welcome their business.

      • Jon,
        You are making the point of needing data. “Observational analysis” and “I would be surprised if” is not data. I am not choosing a side her, but if the data works out as you have detailed, its a no brainer. But then everyone has a rationale for shutting something down. Prove the false narrative you describe. As you say, not rocket science and all easy to obtain.

  14. When we used to come in our RV And stay at the Red Coconut, I think we were paying $75 – $90 per night – and that was back in 2005 – 2008. I don’t know what other mooring fields around the area cost, but $410 per month, comparatively, seems like a bargain.

  15. So something is being hidden here. Your April 19th article showed losses (from FMB website extract) at 2024 expected -268K, 23 actual -127K, 22 actual -262K, 21 actual +37K(profit!), 20 actual -50. So they are losing alot more than shown in reality. Also future figures seem to be based on 93% occupancy of the mooring field – I have never seen it 93% occupied year round (need to come up with realistic figures on which to base decisions and charges)

    Also, if they bought a lot for $2m and its not used then at a conservative rate of interest of 5% that’s a loss of $100k a year. Not to mention maintenance costs and tax (if they have to pay that – I don’t know).

    Now they want to buy a new town hall and the 7-11 site next to it. It seems they had estimates of the new building to be worth 5 or 7M but seems they are going for the higher figure. Why not offer the lower figure? Also the 7-11 site is 2-3M! There is only 6K residents in this town and we are acting like a city. The last time i went to the temporary town hall it was not very occupied – can we not build a reasonably sized town hall on land the town already owns?

    The town should expose its full accounts in the view of transparency and for public examination. I do feel that spending is out of control (as are taxes). We need to cut spend, lower taxes and find a way of moving more of the tax burden to the visitors. I know visitors will say they support businesses – but that really doesn’t pay for the tax liability they create at the moment.

    I’m not saying the Town is not working hard (and I appreciate all the hard effort and dedication), I just think it is creating work and costs where not really needed. If it has taken this long for Jim to get costs on the mooring field just think what other things are out there hidden in the budget.

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