Hernstadt: We Need More Money

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Town Manager Roger Hernstadt told the Fort Myers Beach town council there’s not enough money for the town’s three major renovation projects; Bayside Park, Bay Oaks and Times Square. And, while no exact amount was given, it appears as if the projects are under-funded by millions of dollars.

Councilman Jim Atterholt wanted Hernstadt to give the public a detailed update on the projects and where they all stood budget-wise. “It would be helpful if we knew the overruns on the projects. That would be good for transparency and public consumption.”

Hernstadt said in today’s environment it’s not possible to provide the council and the public an exact plan on how much money will be needed. “Because of the construction environment we’re in, if I told you a number it would be wrong. We need to wait for the bids to come in. We will need more money in the future.”

The town borrowed $10 million to help fund the projects. Back in October Hernstadt said the Bayside Park project would cost an estimated $885,000. On Monday he told the council that project is now expected to cost $950,000. The original goal for Bayside Park was closer to $500,000. Councilman Bill Veach said the Bayside Park cost was eye opening to him. “That came in way over budget.”

About $5.5 million was set aside for Bay Oaks and that project is also over budget. In fact, Hernstadt shared some new news on that project Monday. He told the council that even though there will be a new building, perhaps by the end of 2023, there is no money to buy anything to put in the building. He said, “It’s going to be a beautiful building without a chair to sit on.”

Times Square estimates have not really been discussed much in recent town council meetings. More should be known about the timing and cost estimates on the project later this Summer. Times Square is expected to start last with Bayside Park slated to start first then Bay Oaks.

The discussion about being over budget on the projects started when Councilman Atterholt objected to the town raising parking fees from $3.00 per hour to $5.00 per hour without having a solid plan for what that money would be used for.

Councilman Veach is pushing to spend the money on a parking app. Hernstadt said the first estimate he’s gotten on a parking app was “surprisingly expensive.” There’s also a possibility the money from the higher parking fees might be used to help make up the shortfall in these three projects. The town projected the increase parking fees will bring in another $600,000 in additional revenue.

Atterholdt stood his ground on getting some sort of plan from Hernstadt on what would be done with the extra money the town will soon begin collecting. “We owe the public an explanation. We need a plan, even a rough estimate so we can explain to the people what we’re doing.”

On Thursday the council will consider how to spend $3.5 million in federal COVID funds it was awarded from the American Rescue Plan Act. There are very strict rules on how that money can be spent.┬áIt sounded as if they will at least discuss whether or not it’s even possible to try to spend some of that money on these three projects.

Hernstadt also mentioned the possibility of raising taxes as an option to cover the shortfall.

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