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Truth in taxes

August 19, 2015
By Chuck Bodenhafer , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig!

Our Town Council is proposing an increase in our millage rate from 0.7687 to 1.0604, which is an increase of 41 percent! It does not matter the value of your home, it is still an increase of 41 percent above your current cost. If you use the rolled-back rate, the increase is 51.46 percent!

The property values have increased. This alone will generate a total increase of $116,613 in taxes to the Town, even if Council leaves the current rate the same as last year (.7687). This increase would be 5.68 percent with no change in the millage rate. But no, Council wants to raise your tax rate (up to) 1.0604 which will increase our taxes by $939,689!

These are not small numbers. Council is trying to implement an increase in taxes from $2,059,390 to $2,992,079 or an increase of $939,689! (all the numbers were taken from a spreadsheet dated May 31, 2015 by Maureen Rischitelli.)

Added to this insult is that no research has been done to see if expenses can be cut. For example, we could work with Lee County to see if they could save the Town by providing Land Development services and permitting. This would have saved the taxpayers over $250,000 plus attorney fees, etc, from not allowing the "elevated pools" to be built in the first place. (Lee County stated they would not have approved the permit.) Not to mention all the negativity generated by this unfortunate event.

In years past, Town Council had REDUCED property taxes by 10 percent by increasing the communications tax by a like amount for a net cost to taxpayers of $0. Now, we would be paying the communications tax PLUS this 41 percent increase!

A very short time ago, a Referendum was completed by the Town to see if the voters would approve spending an amount UP TO $7,000,000 for a Town Hall. That was soundly defeated by a very large margin. But, this Council has "found a way around that" by taking money from OUR RESERVES to pay for the purchase and refurbishing of our new Town Hall at a cost of $2,500,000 to taxpayers. It seems very likely that if this had been on a referendum for $2,500,000, the result would have been the same as before. The Taxpayers are still paying for Town Hall.

A recent poll in the Observer posed this question: Will an improved Town Hall aid you in your business or other service? The response:

Yes: 18%

No: 73%

No Opinion: 9%

Since Fiscal Year (FY) 2009, our full-time equivalent staff has grown from 39.0 to 52.8 in FY 2014 (Town of FMB - FY2014 Budget, P.5). This represents an increase of 35 percent in staff in just five short years. If this continues, we will be looking at 71.3 full-time equivalents by 2019. Can we privatize any duties, out-source to Lee County, or cut expenses in any other ways? All of these questions should be researched before resorting to increasing our property taxes by 51.46 percent!

Where was the Town of Fort Myers Beach in attempting to get money from the BP oil Spill? Obviously, we should have applied for a portion of the huge settlement as we certainly were adversely effected. The Town did not even apply for funds. How sad.

Other entities are able to live within their means. The Village of Estero stated "The tax rate will not be going up..and we will be able to run the city with the same services and the same rate."

Our Library is REDUCING their TRIM rate by 9.4 percent! Lee County Schools is REDUCING their tax rate from 7.416 to 7.285!

Another poll from the Observer asked this question: As a taxpayer, are you comfortable with a proposed raise in the millage rate if it means better provided services and an increase in reserves to fund projects like potable water? The response:

Yes: 7%

No: 79%

No opinion: 14%

Wake up taxpayers and pay attention to this proposal. It affects everyone living or working on FMB, as landlords will pass this on to renters, business owners and all of us on FMB. To have our Town Council spend money like water and then tell us we must increase taxes, in part, to replenish our reserves, which Council just raided, is both misleading and disingenuous!

You can polish a 51.46 percent increase as much as you want but it is still a 51.46 percent increase!

--Chuck Bodenhafer is a resident of Fort Myers Beach



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