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Town Hall Issue Will Go To Voters

09/26/2011 at 2:33pm

Town Hall Issue Will Go To Voters

This morning, the Town Council held a workshop where they discussed having a referendum asking the Town's voters whether or not they would be interested in making a longterm commitment to either buying, building or leasing a permanent Town Hall. Currently, the Town renews its lease every three years with the owners of the building at 2523 Estero Boulevard because the Town's charter prevents any debt commitments lasting longer than that period of time.

Town Manager Terry Stewart began by telling the council that the building they currently lease is now valued at $950,000 though the owner has recently asked for a new appraisal. He also reminded council that the last time he approached them about the Town purchasing the property they were 'less than enthusiastic', which brought up the sticky topic of imminent domain.

"Florida has the most stringent laws in favor of the property owner in regards to this,” said Stewart. "The governmental body must pay court costs, attorney’s fees, and if the property owners take you to court, it can be lengthy and costly.”

After a question from Councilman Alan Mandel, Stewart replied that the owners have expressed an interest in providing the Town with a longer lease, so Mandel asked if it would be possible to ask the taxpayers' permission for such a lease in the referendum.

Town Attorney Marilyn Miller said that it may be possible to include language about a long-term lease and, if so, she promised to return with an amended referendum at that night’s meeting.

Mayor Larry Kiker pointed out that the Town has two years left on its current lease, at which point the owner could agree to renew or sign a lease with someone else – a situation the Town finds itself in every three years when it has to renegotiate the terms of its lease.

"The issue is simple,” he said. "I think the main idea here is to ask them yes or no - do you want us to go into debt beyond a three year limit for a new town hall or not. Be it buy, build or lease - all three requires some permission.”

Raymond disagreed, saying he’d like to the two issues – buy or lease – separated into two different referendums because the additional language will confuse people.

Councilman Joe Kosinski asked if council had to determine a ‘not to exceed’ amount and if so, what would that be. After some discussion, council decided to ask Kosinski – an engineer – to return with some square footage costs that would include property, building and construction costs at tonight's meeting. Some of the numbers that were brought up in discussion place that amount anywhere from $4 to $7 million.

Councilwoman Jo List said she is in all in of finding out what residents want, pointing out that - once the referendum is agreed on - council needs to make sure that the information is communicated to the public so that they understand it.

Miller agreed to bring back options for the council to decide on at tonight's meeting. If agreed on, the referendum would either be placed on the first presidential primary ballot

(expected to be sometime in January or February) or via mail out ballot.

Tonight's council meeting will be at 6:30pm at Town Hall, 2523 Estero Boulevard. Items in the agenda include the final public hearing on the budget for the 2011/1012 fiscal year and the public service tax. For a complete agenda, go to www.fortmyersbeachfl.gov and click on 'your government' then 'town council' then 'meeting agendas', or stop by Town Hall.

Keri Hendry