Villages of the Lee Islands City
Soon to come to your ballot. Keep Pine Island the way it is. . . or as a city?
Many have acknowledged the obvious that the initial proposed Pine Island City budget is a small one. This is a tacit concession that the budget for the present and the future is unrealistic. It is naive to suggest that as the inevitable inflation continues, the salaries/benefits wouldn't increase as they have everywhere else. This cycle is as inevitable as mullet jumping in Pine Island sound. And since there is little tourism on which mainland Pine Island can depend, tourism won't be a significant revenue stream to a potential city. Or is this 'lean' budget just a way to suggest to voters that taxes won't go up and that the "spirit" of the island won't change?
Comparison (See Sanibel comparison jpg)
While the comparison with the City of Sanibel may seem unrelated at first, many of the statistics relating to demographics, square miles, households, etc., correspond very closely. So we believe that it would be reasonable to give the comparisons' possible "projections" serious consideration. If the first impression is that Sanibel has a "bloated" budget, we doubt they would agree with that.
Sanibel has world renowned beaches, world renowned resorts and probably doesn't depend entirely on its substantial tourism to augment their tax base. Sanibel is close in size to Pine Island, but as the chart indicates, residents pay an average of $8,600 in residential taxes which is more than 17 times the amount the average Pine Island resident currently pays.
There are virtually no public beaches on Pine Island. There are no tourist attractions of any consequence. There is no infrastructure, neither roads, bridges, facilities to accommodate much increase in tourism if it occurred. There are intentionally scant public facilities of any kind. Furthermore, and despite the "managed growth" statement there definitely won't be any suggestions or motions by the new Pine Island City (and/or the GPICA) to attract more people or to provide more attractions that might encourage more visitors to Pine Island. That would be a direct contravention of the goals. However, lot owners still cannot be restricted from building, side by side, on 50x80 lots and that constitutionally can't be stopped.
Costs that will blow the budget
In response to entreaties of dire, even deadly consequences of not providing more and more services as the 2014 fire district election illustrated, (an election won by less than 100 votes and primarily benefits the areas of "despised" unofficial Cape Coral;) the natural tendency of city fathers is to approve tax increases. And given the almost paranoid disdain for anything that might lower property values will also nudge the Sanibel model closer faster. The chart illustrates that about half of the budget goes to wages, salaries and benefits, no matter how large the budget; and often significantly larger percentage of the budget in many municipalities.
Lee County used Conservation 20/20 monies at the end of 2015 to purchase approximately $4.3 million worth of development rights from Pine Island large-tract property owners settling what is expected to be all of the purported Bert Harris Act lawsuits filed against Lee County in 2009. This amount would have been 4 million dollars above the projected Pine Island City income. The landowners were fighting the county's effort to limit growth on the island's rural coastal areas. The liability of these suits originally were estimated to cost anywhere from 20 to 200 million dollars. In addition, as Pine Island property is taken off the tax rolls, the residents will have to make up any tax shortfall.
The follow-up/not-so-detailed Feasibility Report did include references to, other cost pitfalls like sewer costs of at least $25,000 per resident, the significant global warming or other related or environmental violations and regulations (as the SWOT study states), miles and miles of canal maintenance, the possibility/liability of million-dollar lawsuits by some Pine Island owners to acquire/re-acquire more of their estimated property rights and other concerns herein suggested; 1.5 or 10 million dollars in tax revenue doesn't seem realistic. However, the SWOT study seems to insinuate some rosy revenue projections somewhere far in the future.
Comparative statistics that are close indicate no more than that. Comparative stats that are NOT close indicate that they can be perused more carefully. Creating public policy based on stats that are within 10% (not to mention 1-5%) should automatically indicate shenanigans, incompetence or worse. Statistics are moving objects so ours are close but cannot be exact.
Keep Pine Island the way it is. . . or as a city?
Pine Island City, large Pine Island recreation area, Pine Island Hospital, a 2nd island bridge, these and more are all 40 plus year old ideas. However, let's also acknowledge that Lee County would very much like to relinquish the historically aggravating responsibility for greater Pine Island and that Cape Coral probably would likely accept the responsibility. Further, that Pine Island has already tacitly accepted some of Cape Coral responsibility in its recent Fire Dept. expansion.
Ultimately, the only logical course left for the proposed city fathers would be to make decisions that move closer to the Sanibel model, i.e., increase taxes on its residents. And for these and other reasons we find the Sanibel City a representative and finally realistic model. It is impossible to read the GPICA SWOT report without seeing this intentional and probable outcome.
The GPICA says that return on their questionnaire produced 80% in favor of incorporating. So the outcome seems to be a fait accompli and the unintended consequences are also inevitable. As the national debt continually devalues of the dollar, costs/taxes will significantly increase with or without incorporation. Incorporating may be the right thing to do with realistic leadership, but those few who might be naively in favor of incorporating and are not already millionaires, they had better start getting busy and make some extra income.
After the SWOT study (http://www.gpica.org/analysis-1-2.html) and since the residents following the survey have agreed to continue, a bill will be introduced to the local state delegation for introduction to the state Sept. 1, and the local delegation of: State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, State Rep. Ray Rodriguez, State Rep. Matt Caldwell, State Rep. Dane Eagle and State Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen. If it is approved by the legislature and the governor signs it, Greater Pine Island would cast a ballot for or against incorporation. If the referendum were to pass, Pine Island would be incorporated on Dec. 31, 2018.