Will The Town Council Raise Your Taxes?

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On Monday you’ll find out whether the Fort Myers Beach Town Council starts the budget process with a higher millage rate or keeps it at the 2024 rate of .99 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation. With the Governor signing the budget early the Council has more direction on how much money they’ll now have in the bank.

On Wednesday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the state’s fiscal 2025 $116.5 billion budget. In Florida the Governor has the power of the line-item veto pen. Fort Myers Beach was not on the 16-page $1 billion veto list. That means Fort Myers Beach will receive $8 million for its new Town Hall and $7.6 million in revenue replacement. The $15.6 million the town will receive is a grant. The town will not have to pay that money back.

Even if the ad valorem tax rate remains where it is at .99, residents will see a higher tax bill, and the Fort Myers Beach government will see more revenue from tax payers. Lee County Property Appraiser Matt Caldwell says property values on Fort Myers Beach, in the last year, have skyrocketed by nearly 40%. That would net Fort Myers Beach another $1 million in revenue. The Town Council could also “roll back” the tax rate to a number that would give them the same amount of revenue they took in this last year, making sure residents do not pay a penny more. Between revenue (parking, fees, etc) and ad valorem taxes, the Fort Myers Beach operating budget is about $8 million.

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 stays the same, $290,000 will be deposited back into the town’s emergency fund. Every point the Town Council raises taxes, another $36,000 is added to that $290,000. Onzick recommends 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.

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.

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 has been ready to purchase 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. And most likely at a much lower cost.

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.

When the town closes on 6231 Estero Boulevard, that leaves the town with a prime piece of Estero Boulevard real estate where the old Town Hall use to sit before Hurricane Ian destroyed it. That piece of land was recently appraised for $13 million and Vice Mayor Jim Atterholt is leaning toward pushing the Town Council to consider selling it to keep the ad valorem rate from being raised.

The Town Council must have a tentative millage rate set by August 4th. Being that there are no meetings in July, the Town Council is expected to set the tentative millage rate at this Monday’s meeting. Once they set that tentative rate, it can only come down following the town’s budget meetings and final budget vote, it cannot be increased.

33 COMMENTS

  1. good lord…whomever wrote this ….those with money….there is no “theirselves” it’s themselves…..and I have money and there will always be bums and noisy kids and I am sick and tired of paying such high taxes….why dont you go back to grammar school…not the year to raise taxes….we have spent so much to clean up and have lost revenue also

  2. Not sure how anyone can talk about higher tax rates when there is a windfall coming over the next 2-3 years with the new building and rebuilt buildings

  3. Please raise the taxes! It’s going to definitely keep the riff raff out of our beautiful stretch of paradise! It’s the only way to keep FMB clean & civil!

    If not it’ll return to pre Ian with all the noisy kids cruising up and down Estero, the dirty hippies working on the beach here & there, all the drunks bumbling around after 10 talking to theirselves – or arguing with their girlfriends, and that list is way long with “those types” of lowlifes.

    We have a chance to raise the class of people who deservedly belong on the beach because we pay for it!

  4. Why on earth would a small town government in a place of so much personal hardship raise taxes days after $15.6 million in state funds rained down on it and another $1 million windfall is on its way from soaring property values?
    The perfect moment for a rollback. The caveat is as long as it’s spent responsibly, not always the case in years past.

  5. Ed & Kim-
    What I would like is a follow up with Lee County Property Appraiser Matt Caldwell to provide the specifics substantiating his claim that property values on Fort Myers Beach, in the last year, have skyrocketed by nearly 40%.

  6. Someone needs to some homework and find out the so called loan for the whatever? Also I think its time the people see all payouts of money already spent. Something just not adding up. Question 1 should be where is all the permit monies?
    Question 2 who truly owns the bridges that are on the north and south end?
    Question 3 what other money was received from the state and Fema? People have forgotten the basics of math.
    Question 4 if the town can profit from the old land why isn’t that money considered to be put back in the funds?

    Ed you of all people know you can find out whats up with town and the monies. Go after the real information for the people.

    • Excellent questions. Where is all the permit money. Lots of questions before we start pouring more money into a seemingly bottomless pit

    • What the town claims to “own” is actually owned by taxpayers. I want to remind everyone employed by the town are indentured servants for the taxpayer. Truth is, unless people “own” property through an allodial title, it is owned by the state.

  7. This is not the year to raise taxes. The town needs to utilize all means of getting government grants, loans and incentives. Finish collecting FEMA and other insurance. In this news letter you tell us we have a new town employee who can do that. We all are living on a budget that we are trying to afford. The town has to do the same. Property values are only up if you can sell at more than you paid. There are very few personal sales on the beach at the moment. Once again I say don’t let corporate American set the pace for our community. The citizens of FMB do not need higher tax rates

    • This screams out loud the town is in financial ruin. I said prior to the hurricane the town was broke. It’s takes more and more to maintain everything. Nothing anyone may have done wrong but placing this burden upon its already beaten down residents is not the answer. Sell the property. Pay back the loans with that money. And let the county take it back until everything is fixed. Then regroup and start over again. Have to know when to ask for help and not be to proud to do so.

    • Yes! We have a mayor who does not even own a home. He’s a renter deciding on raising taxes on home owners. This makes no sense!

  8. The “new” Town Hall will be the only location with meeting space, other than resorts, for different groups to hold meetings. I know nothing of its interior spaces, but assume there will be multiple uses. Maybe even lease out office space to not-for-profits? Art Association could hang paintings like they did in their own building. They have always been cramped in their Town Hall and needed more space. This is a beautiful building that can serve many community purposes.

  9. HELP THE HOA’S GET THE CONDOS BACK OPENED! You want more taxes, there are condo buildings struggling to get rebuilt, help them! You’ll get your taxes back then.

  10. What about the increased tax base from new construction? Was that considered? For example Margaritaville has to be paying higher taxes based on their assessed values. With all the new commercial and condo developments the tax base should increase without changing the mill rate.

  11. The town needs to work in the existing budget and learn not to waste money. $7million for that town hall building was the top estimate – and with property prices dropping there is no way it is worth $7m (something strange going on with that deal). Also they do not need 23,000 sqft – I have been the the temporary town hall and it is mostly vacant. Build a reasonable size town hall on already owned land and don’t add future maintenance by adding more and more town property that is not needed.

    Also if the mooring field is losing money then privatize it. The projections for 97% occupancy need to even get close to break-even are just not realistic. Last time I checked less than 50% were occupied.

    Those are only a few things of many. The town needs to get value for money and stop spending like money is water.

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