Permitting is the most important issue for Fort Myers Beach residents. As property owners work through the process of rebuilding their homes, getting permits is their biggest challenge. Town leaders recognize this and are trying to make the process more user-friendly.
Thousands of permit applications have been submitted to the town and despite a record number of those permits being granted, residents are still frustrated with the process. Many say they are getting denied for little things that could be easily fixed with a phone call or an e-mail.
The challenge town staff is faced with right now is the volume. Before the storm hit the town’s permitting department consisted of two people. When Ian came through, every structure on the island was damaged in one way or another. The town’s finances were decimated and the Town Council decided to wave permit fees for 90 days to give residents who lost everything some financial relief. That decision also left the town with no revenue stream to add staff to the permitting department.
When Interim Town Manager Keith Wilkins came aboard this month one of the first things he did was expand the hours of the permitting department so residents had more access to the permitting staff. This week Wilkins announced the permitting department has now bulked up to 8 people. Four permitting specialists are coming in from the state to help and two additional employees are being moved over from the town’s recreation department.
Wilkins explains what those 8 employees will be working on. “We have permit intake, demo review, specialty trade review like electrical, mechanical and zoning. We outsource building code review and inspections as well as flood plain review.” The hope is that with a bigger staff, residents can move through the permitting process quicker and start rebuilding. On Mondays With The Mayor this week Mayor Allers said getting people back in their homes is his top pririty.
Wilkins says a catastrophic event like Hurricane Ian can put a serious strain on a small government. “It’s a challenge to a town like Fort Myers Beach which is exactly the situation we talked about on your podcast of the pros and cons of government lite. It’s great for good easy times but results in a massive shortage of resources and control in challenging times like now. We are in a position of depending on the state for whoever they can send us on short term basis and outside contractors.”