Town Council Takes First Step to Raise Your Taxes

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Vice Mayor Jim Atterholt tried to convince his colleagues to sell the land the old town hall once occupied to help replenish the town’s depleted emergency funds but three members of the Town Council would have none of it and moved to raise the millage rate. Councilman John King joined Atterholt in opposition of a higher rate.

By a vote of 3-2 the Fort Myers Beach Town Council voted to set the tentative 2025 millage rate at $1.03 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The current rate is .99. The taxpayers of Fort Myers Beach were already going to pay more in taxes after Lee County Property Appraiser Matt Caldwell announced property values on Fort Myers Beach increased by 40% since last year. That will result in the Fort Myers Beach budget increasing by $1 million in 2025. Caldwell also said on Beach Talk Radio Saturday, June 15th that by next year property values could be back to where they were pre-Ian which would bring another round of new revenue to the town budget. For three members of this Town Council that just wasn’t enough.

In addition to Caldwell’s rosie predictions for property values on Fort Myers Beach, State Representatives Adam Botana and Spencer Roach both reiterated the state would most certainly be there for Fort Myers Beach if they faced another catastrophic event. Mayor Allers has been saying that through his conversations with members of the state delegation (although he did not specify who) the state expects to see the town also “help themselves.” And, apparently that help has to come in the form of a tax increase.

As the town now goes through the budget process the Town Council can only decide to lower the millage rate. They can not go higher than the tentative rate of $1.03 when they approve their final budget. The Town Council must have a tentative millage rate set by August 4th. Being that there are no meetings in July, the Town Council needed to set the tentative millage rate at Monday’s meeting.

Finance Director Joe Onzick

Earlier this month Town Finance Director Joe Onzick told the Town Council that the town’s emergency funds are depleted and they should consider raising the millage rate to start to replenish that fund. In the first two months after Hurricane Ian, before insurance money and FEMA funds arrived to help operate the town, $3.5 million from emergency funds was spent.

If the tax rate stayed at .99, $290,000 would have been deposited back into the town’s emergency fund. Every point the Town Council might raise taxes, another $36,000 is added to that $290,000. Onzick recommended the town raise the millage rate to $1.03 of $1,000 of assessed property value which would net the emergency fund $434,172 in the next fiscal year. Still well short of the $3.5 million he wants in that fund.

Onzick presented the Town Council with only one option to fix the shortfall in the emergency fund…raising taxes. The town has been on a hiring spree as of late, adding a new Harbormaster at a salary/benefits of $93,000 and a new planner at a salary/benefits of $143,000. Onzick did not raise any emergency fund red flags at any public meetings about the spending side of the government when these hires were made.

Now that the state budget has been approved and the town will be receiving a $15.6 million grant, Vice Mayor Jim Atterholt suggested the town sell the old town hall property and replenish the emergency funds completely to where Onzick wants it to be. That piece of land was recently appraised for $13 million. Allers, Woodson and Safford all shot down that idea and want to retain the land. Councilman John King said, “raising the millage rate sends a bad message to our residents. I will not be supporting any increase.”

We asked Greg Scasny who’s running for Town Council this November what his thoughts are on the proposed tax increase. “While not the final millage rate, the willingness of several council members to raise the maximum possible millage rate without taking a serious look at what we need to cut from the budget, sends a message to our community. How can we expect families to come to the island and have the community we all so cherish when there is a never-ending plethora of costs and tax increases? I want my friends and neighbors to rebuild and get back on the island, but increasing taxes is not going to make that any easier. Our town needs to take a very hard look at all our expenditures and assets and get back to the “Government Lite” model our Town was founded on, so we can keep the community that we all love and cherish. I would have voted no.”

Mayor Dan Allers did challenge the town staff to come back with any possible spending cuts that could be made during the budget process.

Allers, Atterholt and Safford are all up for reelection this November.

The town has 3 emergency funds in the budget: Emergency Fund Reserves, General Fund Emergency Reserves and General Fund Operating Reserves. In those 3 reserve funds as of today there is $1.88 million. Based on the history of dealing with Hurricane Ian, Onzick wants that number back up to $3.5 million as quickly as possible.

While Onzick stated a fact that the town quickly spent $3.5 million in the immediate aftermath of the storm, what has not been mentioned at all was that the money was spent by an unprepared government and Town Manager. They had no history of how to deal with a category 5 Hurricane and were disorganized from the get-go. That’s no longer the case. The current Town Council, Town Manager Andy Hyatt and his staff all now understand how to deal with a catastrophic event. They understand who to call about hiring the right debris removal company. They understand they need a hotel off island to communicate with the residents. They understand who to ask for help from the day after the storm. They’ve been practicing their plan to get residents back on the island in a non-chaotic way. Would $3.5 million have to be spent again knowing what the town now knows about how to deal with a major weather event?

To help get over the Hurricane Ian hump the town received an $11.9 million bridge loan from the state. For now, that loan (not all of it has been used) needs to be paid back. While it’s due date is June 30th, it’s likely the state will give the town at least a 6-month extension, maybe even a 10-year extension. The interest rate on the loan is 10%. There is also occasional chatter that the loan may be forgiven down the road. It appears there are restrictions on what money can be used to pay back the bridge loan. Onzick said ad valorem tax money cannot be used.

$8 million of the $15 million grant the town will receive from the state for fiscal 2025 is earmarked for a new Town Hall. $7.6 million is for revenue replacement. The town will be purchasing the building at 6231 Estero Boulevard for $7 million and convert it to a town hall. Now with the $8 million coming from the state (that does not need to be paid back), the town can close the deal on that building and be operating there by January of 2025. A much faster time frame than trying to build a new town hall from scratch. Town Manager Andy Hyatt said building a new town hall from scratch would have cost $25 million and taken up to 3 years.

The 3-floor 24,000 square foot building sits at the corner of Estero Boulevard and Bahia Via. It’s a storm-hardened structure, having survived the two most recent hurricanes, including Ian. The building would need only minor alterations before the town would move in. FEMA would have paid for a new Town Hall but they only build back what was previously there. The 6231 Estero Building is bigger than the previous Town Hall.

The Town Council also wants to hear feedback from the residents about the millage rate. If you send an e-mail to this address all five Town Council members will receive it. council@fmbgov.com

 

37 COMMENTS

  1. When FEMA and insurance paid out, they could have placed part that money back in the emergency fund, if not all of it.
    It is my speculation they will sell the land within a year of raising the mil rate. I’m also of the opinion the taxes will never be lowered back to .99

    • I believe the held on to that, Bowditch, Lynn Hall Park and Estero Blvd after the Town Incorporated.

      • Crescent Beach used to be a hotel, until wiped out by Charlie (2004). It wasn’t rebuilt, and the bank foreclosed. In 2010 the County bought it from the bank, to help clean up that stretch.

      • I thought the county bought the three lots that comprise the park in 2010?

        I remember it was a big deal what to name it; at a 2011 BOCC meeting, “Crescent Beach Park” failed; someone wanted it to be “Crescent Beach Family Park.”

  2. I see a financial accounting and recall of elected servants coming. All it takes is enough signatures from residents.

  3. Geez, its not that much of an increase and can be lowered. If you all are interested in saving money on taxes pay attention to the Fire Dept, who’s mill rate is 3 times more.

    • Says the guy who’s probably never had a true medical emergency or fire. I’ll bet your cellphone bill is more per month then fire taxes….but you’re not complaining about that! Be glad that you have the protection! And the best part is…the heroic men and women of the fire service are still happy to help!!

      • Eric, you don’t know shit! I recently spent more than 2 weeks in the hospital, had be brought back to life twice, and yes I personally went to the fire station to thank the EMT’s who saved my life. I am a full time resident (since2012) unlike the majority of the commenters and deserve accountability from all governmental agencies. I too am on a fixed income, but don’t think short term as it relates to the town and the needs of the residents.

  4. THIS IS NOT PALM BEACH COUNTY, MOST PEOPLE ON THIS ISLAND ARE RETIREES ON FIX INCOME, LIKE MY HUSBAND AND I. WE WILL PROBABLY HAVE
    TO SELL CAN’T KEEP UP WITH REAL ESTATE TAXES. SHAME, SHAME,WHEN
    GOVERNMENT SPENDS OUT OF CONTROL, PEOPLE GET POORER.
    JIM AND ANGELA

  5. Totally agree with each comment here, it’s easy to spend other’s $$, and do “whatever” with that land. There’s probably an agenda here – that residents don’t know about yet. If it is “workforce housing” … it has been made very clear how RESIDENTS feel – listen to them.
    That land should be sold to benefit this small Island that is, and will be rebuilding for some time to come.
    Residents should have a voice –
    example: the $92,000,000 bridge –
    SPEND SPEND SPEND – then Tax !

  6. problem here is once again TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION ! I would suspect most of us on this thread are not residents and can’t vote, yet we all get to pay the bill. We need to lobby state government for some type of amendment that allows property owners on the beach to vote in the city election.

  7. This feels like a very, knee-jerk reaction at this point. These new buildings and resorts will be paying substantially more in property taxes than the buildings they are replacing, so we are talking about a timing issue? To increase property taxes now instead of selling the city hall property is just a very short sighted approach to planning in my opinion.

  8. Any council member who is voting to raise our taxes so they can keep land so they can start their “ workforce housing agenda” needs to be voted out of office. Homeowners have been very clear about this workforce plan. We do not want it. Additionally, our Mayor doesn’t own a home and yet he is voting to raise our taxes so he can help marshall in workforce housing. That needs to be stopped. It’s not fair for homeowners who will have to pick up that tab.

  9. I am not suprized at what the Town Council is proposing to do. It is just bad management..they hire more people..refuse to sell land and raise our taxes. When will they stop the bad decision making? I think we deserve an explanation from those 3 “opposer” Remember there is an election coming up and we can vote them out

  10. They are doing something similar in nyc.putting illegal migrants in hotels and it will bankrupt nyc How does helping workforce workers live on our island.at the cost of taxpayers. Help us ? They will be getting a salary and helping the tourists.

  11. They can buy a new building and create a new place for town hall, which is great, but they cannot sell the old land? Even worse use it for non revenue? Our taxes are through the roof already.

  12. After everything that’s happened on the Island and they decide to raise taxes instead of selling their land. It’s Always the easy way out for politicians and screw the people.

    • Exactly. They want to raise taxes But refuse to sell the old town hall property which our town can now use the money….our money…doesn’t make sense. Can we get an explanation from the three council people who voted against the sale.? If not.You can always vote them off the council.

  13. Sell the town council owned land and do not raise taxes. Residents are still trying to get back on their feet from Ian. Raising taxes is like a sucker punch in the gut. Why does council want to keep that property? And what are they going to do with the very nice “temporary building” where the town hall is located now when they move to their new place. Sounds like a lot of mismanagement to me.

    • We all agree with you….remember this when election comes about…and vote to replace the ones that wanted higher taxes with people that have a brain…we are so tired of paying and paying…I am now selling my home because I cant afford the taxes….thank you FMB council….another tragedy on top of what I just went thru…where are your heads!!???

  14. Pre Ian the town swelled from 7,000 residents to 50,000 in season with visitors. Why can’t FMB generate tax income from alternative taxes like “bed taxes” or other tourism related methods like I get hit with in other popular tourist destinations? We want to rebuild and have a well maintained place for both residents and tourists. Why not share the cost of that and use the leverage of numbers?

    • There is a bed tax and a hefty one at that. But the bed tax is collected by the county and the state and as such, is in their hands to “divvy” back out the island and surrounding areas. At this time, even if the town were to control the bed tax money, there isn’t much of it. Rentals are dismal right now.

    • The council members/mayor that are against selling the property are for building work force housing that wouldn’t make the town any money in return.

      • They are doing something similar in nyc.putting illegal migrants in hotels and it will bankrupt nyc How does helping workforce workers live on our island.at the cost of taxpayers. Help us ? They will be getting a salary and helping the tourists.

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