Residents to Receive Free
Memberships to Bay Oaks
Monday night's meeting of the Town Council of Fort Myers Beach ended up being a positive one for islanders, as the council voted to give free memberships to Bay Oaks to all residents and granted the Friends of the Arts $25,000 for funding image-enhancing programs like the Fort Myers Beach Film Festival and Paint the Beach.
The meeting opened with newly-elected Kid Council members 'Mayor' John Sohner and Erica Halsey leading the pledge of allegiance and informing everyone that Beach Elementary's Christmas Program will be held on December 18th.
During Local Achievements and Recognitions, Councilwoman Jo List mentioned the success of the Kids’ Mural Program and Mandel thanked the Fort Myers Beach Community Foundation for hosting the 'Beach Ball' last Saturday night.
"The kids that graduated from Beach Elementary were well represented at Lexington Middle School’s ceremony to recognize their honor students last Wednesday,” List added.
The council then moved on to a discussion of a revised fee schedule prepared by Town staff. The fees, which were discussed at a workshop held on November 5, include everything from chair rentals to administrative costs to mooring field rentals (a full list can be found on the Town's website). The list also included a proposal to grant free Bay Oaks memberships to beach residents and special corporate passes so resorts can offer the services to their guests - something the council seemed a bit uncertain of at that workshop.
Vice-Mayor Alan Mandel, who came up with the proposal, explained why he believes the idea is a win-win for both the Town and it's residents.
"Everyone in Town should be a member because we all pay taxes on Bay Oaks,” he said. "There are currently 459 members, 189 of whom don’t live on the island. If you consider taxpayers and snowbirds together give us a population of 15,000, then only 1% of the island is currently using Bay Oaks. The average person with a membership spends $56 a year on classes, which is expected to increase to $70. The corporate memberships - even if we sell only 50 - will bring in $17,250 – that alone will more than make up for what we're losing by giving residents free memberships, not to mention the increased revenue from all the new members paying for classes.”
Mandel finished by saying that he is convinced that this would increase both revenue and usage of Bay Oaks. Kosinski agreed, and List said she likes the idea since many communities make its residents members.
"Even if you’re a member, you still have to pay for the activity they’re participating in,” she said.
Mayor Bob Raymond re-emphasized his opposition to corporate memberships, saying it isn’t the Town’s business to be entertainers.
"Bay Oaks belongs to the people who live on Fort Myers Beach,” he said. "And more people means more wear and tear - is that what we want?”
When Councilman Joe Kosinski suggested doing another workshop, Town Manager Terry Stewart pointed out that council has already discussed this at three previous meetings.
"Nearly every community does this for it’s residents, and they do not differentiate between renters and property owners,” he said. "This is not a new thing.”
Due to some confusion as to how much the corporate passes would cost, council then agreed to defer that item to another day but unanimously agreed to the revised fee schedule and free resident memberships for Bay Oaks – including the pool.
Next came a request from the non-profit group, Friends of the Arts, for $25,000 in funding to pay for a public relations firm to promote art on the island
Friends of the Arts Secretary of the Board and Island Sand Paper Publisher Bob Layfield spoke for the group, saying that the purpose of the request is to defray the expenses of public relations support that will attract and bring participants and patrons to art presentations on the beach.
""Our grant states specifically what it’s for - to hire a public relations firm to promote arts for everyone on the island,” he said. "This is the perfect example of a public/private partnership. Our goal is to promote all arts on the island and a positive image of our community.”
Andre asked how much the Town has set aside for requests like this, and Stewart replied that $100,000 has been set aside and that none of it has been designated for anyone else.
List pointed out that many different groups - such as Paint the Beach, the Beach Arts Cooperative, the Fort Myers Beach Film Festival and both Beach and Heights Elementary Schools benefit from this group.
"I think it’s a great idea,” she said, and Mayor Raymond agreed, saying that he believes that the group's work enhances the image of the beach.
The request passed unanimously.
Next, the council considered two requests for the one open seat on the Local Planning Agency – Rexann Hosofros and James Steele - both of whom applied for the open council seat last month. After a short discussion, they voted 3-2 to appoint Steele.
Finally, the council approved an ordinance designed to provide regulation for street performers.
"We used to handle this administratively, and we had no ordinance to deal with violations or anything,” Stewart said, and Town Attorney Marilyn Miller explained that it would set forth regulations that everyone must follow. Council discussed the ordinance – which includes limitations on where they can perform and prohibits things fire, knives, artificial sound amplification and tattooing - at their workshop on November 5.
Pete’s Time Out and Time Square Merchant’s Alliance Treasurer Pete Lallo thanked the council for addressing his concerns about performers playing music during the Alliance’s Sunset Celebration.
"But what about enforcement?” he asked. "So long as they set up after 5, nothing will happen.”
Stewart replied that the Town has now scheduled their code officers to work weekends and random evenings.
Street performer Michael Quinn spoke next, saying he has performed in Time Square for 5 years and thanked them for allowing him to make a living.
The ordinance passed unanimously.
The next meeting of the Town Council of Fort Myers Beach will be held on Monday, December 3rd at 9:30am at Town Hall, 2523 Estero Boulevard. For an agenda, go to www.fortmyersbeachfl.gov.
Keri Hendry Weeg