To the editor:
The town has decided that it needs as much as $7 million to buy a new town hall. It has set a referendum vote on the matter for the end of this month.
We're not sure how, when or where the details of this proposal were put together and voted on in a public meeting. We're not even sure there are any details. If there are any, they haven't been made available to the residents of our town.
Huge questions surround this referendum:
The first one is why? What's wrong with the building they're in? Simply declare it a public need and file eminent domain. Then get three appraisals and let a judge decide the final price. We're pretty sure it would cost a lot less than $7 million and probably take much less time. Even Town Manager Terry Stewart favors this option. He told Tidelines on Monday "if they asked me I'd recommend eminent domain."
There's plenty of time to work on this option. The town has two years left on its lease.
Let's remember, if they borrow $7 million through a bond issue, our residents will be repaying a heck of a lot more than $7 million. And by the way, how was the $7 million figure arrived at?
Where are the plans showing us what we'd need in square footage, office spaces and building capacities? And just what do they want to buy, and where? An existing building? An empty lot?
Have all of these things been decided in a dark room? And if they haven' been decided, why weren't they decided before asking voters to approve a $7 million plus interest debt?
Let's remember voters, we gave the town permission in 2007 to borrow money for a very valid cause to fix our broken water system. That was five years ago. But this council dawdled for five years and still hasn't gotten that project started. It's been estimated it will cost upwards of $13 million. If we approve this town hall referendum we are putting our tiny town at least $20 million in debt in the middle of bad economic times.
Why do they need a bigger town hall? Are they planning to continue expanding this small town's government, payroll and workforce, which will mean higher taxes? It smells that way.
There's more than a bit of hypocrisy in this proposal. This council that spent a year helping a small group of residents criticize our local library board for extending its building and claiming it didn't need an extension. But remember, the library board did so the old fashioned way it put money into savings to someday achieve the addition, then borrowed only $2 million of the $8 million they needed, a loan that is almost paid off. But now the town wants to commit taxpayers to up to 30 years of debt for a new building it hasn't shown a need for. Meanwhile, the money to fix our water system still hasn't been obtained.
Hopefully, the voters on Jan. 31 will say no to $7 million for a town hall. After all, it's obvious we weren't given any details or invited into any public discussions on this expensive proposition before it was placed on the ballot.
Instead of borrowing for a town hall, we should be insisting demanding - that these public servants get off their butts and give us all what we really need -- a new water system.
The Board of Directors, Fort Myers Beach Civic Association
Dennis Boback, Pat Smith, Frank Schilling, Lorrie Wolfe, Dean Southworth, Doris Grant, Lee Melsek, Kathleen Cameron, Sandi Suter, Tom Cameron.