Both Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy and Town Manager Roger Hernstadt believe Fort Myers Beach should receive more funding from Lee County because the beach is such an important Lee County destination.
The conversation about being short-changed by the county came up during the last town council meeting when TDC funds were being discussed.
Hernstadt commented that the amount of money Fort Myers Beach contributes to the tourist tax fund “is far more than we get.”
Mayor Ray Murphy said the County spends tourist tax money on advertising specifically to bring people from out of town to the beach. In fact the TDC logo includes the word beaches right in it.
In 1982, Lee County residents voted to form a tourism organization that would promote Lee County’s off-season vacation assets in the United States and abroad. A two-percent tax on short-term accommodations was approved to support the new Lee County Tourist Development Council.
In 1988, an additional one percent tourist tax was levied to a total of three percent to support the Beach & Shoreline Capital Improvement Program.
In 2005, the Lee County Board approved an additional two percent tourist tax to bring the total tax to five percent.
Each year the Tourist Development Council approves funding for the maintenance of Lee County beaches, beach renourishment projects, and beach and shoreline capital projects such as piers, boardwalks, parks and re-vegetation. The Lee County Visitors and Convention Bureau administers the TDC tax.
In recent years, in addition to beach renourishment funds, the town has received funding for projects at the Mound House, because of it’s historical significance, and Newton Park, because it has direct access to the beach. Some council members would like to see money requested for other projects for a change.
Councilman Dan Allers, for example, would like to see the town request funding for the Times Square reconstruction project, which is estimated to cost beach residents several million dollars and could be considered a tourist destination as well as direct access to the beach. Councilman Bill Veech mentioned a Kayak launch.
In addition to beach renourishment funds, for fiscal year 2021-2022, the town is asking the county for:
– $175,750 for the Mound House for landscaping, signage and restrooms.
– $72,050 for Newton Park for landscaping, restrooms, a shower station and shade structures.
– $100,000 for restrooms on Palm Avenue.
Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros, who’s a member of the Tourist Development Council, said there are very strict rules tied to the TDC funds. She cautioned her fellow council members about asking for any additional funds right now, when there’s a steep decline in tourist tax revenue, due to COVID. “This isn’t the year to do it. Not only will we get a no, they will hold it against us. You will damage yourself”
Town Manager Roger Herndstadt advised the council not to ask for additional funds now because it may make the town look greedy during these difficult times. And, then, he said the town might take “a haircut on projects that are already being funded.”
Hernstadt then went on to say that getting funding from the county is a political game and the rules are somewhat stacked against the town. It’s important to note that town council members – or the town manager – are rarely, if ever, seen attending a Lee County Board meeting.
Hernstadt told the town council that they should be asking the county for financial assistance on some of the projects the town is now undertaking. “Whether they decide to use money from the general revenue fund, impact fees, TDC funds or some other fund, isn’t really a concern of ours. Our concern is that we are building amenities here that not only service our residents, but service people from Lee County, other counties and other countries. All this money comes back to them, supporting tourism activities and they should be helping us. And we shouldn’t get caught up in which one of their pockets it comes out of. I don’t know that we really care.”
In October VCB Executive Director Tamara Pigott reported that preliminary tourist tax collections came in at $36,387,676, a decrease of 11.5% year-over-year.