Mandel and Kiker Address
Lee County Legislative Delegation
Leaders from across Lee County gathered at a hearing before Lee's Legislative Delegation on Tuesday morning to urge their state representatives and senators to push forward issues important to them and their communities when this year's legislative session begins in March. Some 58 speakers representing all five of the county's municipalities, the Lee County School Board, and groups such as BikeWalkLee and local chambers of commerce each gave three minute presentations before representatives Matt Caldwell (R), Lehigh Acres; Heather Fitzenhagen (R), Ft. Myers; Ray Rodrigues (R), Estero; Dane Eagle (R), Cape Coral and state senators Lizbeth Benacquisto (R), Fort Myers and Garrett Richter (R) of Naples.
The possible incorporation of the community of Estero was a big topic on many folks' minds when the meeting began, with some 15 residents - many of them veterans of prior incorporation drives - urging the delegation to seek approval from the state for their new town.
Nick Batos, chairman of the Estero Council of Community Leaders, presented the state legislators with 10,000 petitions signed by Estero residents in support of incorporation. If passed by the state, the issue will go before voters in that community some time next year. The delegation then voted 6-0 to move the incorporation drive forward when they go to Tallahassee.
Lee County Commission Chairman Larry Kiker outlined the county's legislative priorities, which include opposition to state-mandated rules relating to fertilizer that would pre-empt local regulation, support for an exemption for local government adoption of Federal Emergency Management Agency Flood Zone maps and support for projects designed to improve water quality.
"We are also asking for support for funding for the Bob Janes Triage Center as over 2,000 folks benefit from that,” he said. "As far as local projects - should funding become available: Lee County has spent $105 million over the past 5 years on water quality, and we'd like to see about $300,000 in funding from the state for water quality improvement projects.”
Kiker then urged the delegation to support relief from the Biggert/Waters Act, saying it would cause an 'economic tsunami' if a relief bill is not passed.
"By law, we have to adopt FEMA's flood zone maps in order to get funding, and the county is now getting sued by those who claim that lowers their property values,” he said. "We are looking to you to see if there's any solution to this.”
Other issues listed as important to Lee County include opposition to legislation pre-empting local authority in regards to septic tank inspections, local business taxes, well permitting, wastewater, and water quality - specifically the implementation of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL's). Among others, Lee County supports things such as funding for working waterfronts, participation in the Medicaid Workgroup and "goal-based water conservation initiatives through permit incentives and the use of conservation best management practices developed by the utility industry” and science-based numeric nutrient criteria.
Mayor Alan Mandel opened his presentation by urging the legislators to support the Town's annexation of Mound Key and several other islands near it, 90% of which is owned by the state.
"The Town of Fort Myers Beach is the closest geographical area to Mound Key, and we have spoken to folks from both Bonita Springs and Estero with neither expressing an interest in acquiring this property,” he said. "We have also been working on a pre-annexation agreement with the McGee family.”
Mandel told the delegation that the Town is looking to create a passive park on the key, tying it in with the Mound House.
"The state would benefit from this as we would ensure that there would be no development on the property, and we would have no objections if the state wanted to purchase it from us,” he continued. "We also have an architectural consultant on retainer for the Town so we will be able to maintain the historical integrity of the site, as well as promote it - along with the Mound House - as a place to learn about the Calusa Indians. We plan to have regular kayak tours from the Mound House to Mound Key, and to promote it as a stop along the Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail.”
The Mayor added that annexation of Mound Key and the surrounding islands would benefit island residents, too, as the extra land mass would reduce insurance rates by $500,000/year.
"The other issue is one we discussed at a meeting of the Florida League of Cities, where municipalities - by referendum - would be allowed to levy a Local Option Infrastructure Surtax of one half of one percent that would be used for infrastructure projects only,” he said. "This would greatly help communities like ours where 7,000 year round residents foot the bill for infrastructure that is being used by upwards of 40,000 people during season.”
Mandel concluded by saying that the sales surtax has proven successful in similar tourist communities like Destin and New Smyrna.
Other priorities presented by the Town of Fort Myers Beach include support of funding for Historic Preservation and Archeological programs, limiting water releases from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River, support for science-based numeric nutrient criteria, continued funding through the State Revolving Fund program, the addition of stormwater improvement projects to a state loan/incentive program and opposition to legislation that would impede home rule, allow for drilling for oil or gas off the coast of Florida and all unfunded mandates on local governments - particularly those affecting water, sewer and storm water.
To see a complete listing of all presentations, including supporting documentation, go to www.leedelegation.com.
Keri Hendry Weeg