To the Editor,
Mayor Ruane has written to me and to the Island Reporter criticizing my view that Sanibel should reduce its $38 million budget and its $42 million debt.
Using data provided by the Mayor, Fort Myers has a budget of $249 million, a population of 62,300 and thus spends $4,000 annually per resident. The comparable 2013 spending figure for Sanibel is $5,700 or 43 percent greater than Fort Myers.
Regarding the Center 4 Life, the Island Reporter noted that Council considered spending $400,000 in 2013 for a new roof, new air conditioning and minor modifications to the interior space, plus $90,000 for architectural fees to assess the building. Instead, Council voted to spend $90,000 on repairs and maintenance. As the Center is decades old, and apparently in need of major repairs, I believe a better course would be to replace the building by eliminating less essential items from the 2013 budget. A good place to start would be debris removal from the Sanibel River which was never performed by an outside contractor prior to Hurricane Charley and is the province of the Public Works Department.
Regarding debris removal, the Finance Department informs me that since 2005 former Councilman "Bird" Westall has received $696,000 to clear debris from the Sanibel River. The substantial majority of this money, 89 percent, was approved by Council without a competitive bid, a regrettable ethical lapse. Competitive bidding on this project did not begin until 2012. The Mayor alleges that I am "uninformed" and that my comments regarding no bid payments to a former Councilman are "slanderous."
What would have been the better public benefit? ... $696,000 to Mr. Westall or using these funds instead to construct a new Center 4 Life, a modest rectangular structure, which could be replaced by a private builder in a matter of months.
Regarding the new Rec Center, the Finance Department informs me that the total cost will be $14.8 million, which includes $6.4 million in interest payments to bond investors. The bonds issued to fund this facility will not be repaid until 2036, which means the average taxpayer, who remits about $50 annually to repay this debt, will expend $1,500 over the 30-year life of the bonds. It is commendable that Council intends to retire $300,000 of these bonds in 2016, a small first step.
However, the Mayor characterizes my call for spending restraint as "unfortunate that a citizen can not embrace the will of the people" who voted to build the new Rec Center. This is nonsense. I favored a new Rec Center, but it could have been built at a far lower cost. Moreover, I financially supported construction of the adjacent Elementary School playground, several land acquisition initiatives by the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, of which I am a life member, and other community endeavors over the years.
My friends, ad hominem comments by the Mayor disparaging my call for budget restraint and a laser focus on reducing Sanibel's enormous debt are a diversion.
To wit ... Sanibel will spend $38 million in 2013 and carries $42 million in debt on its balance sheet, extraordinary sums for a small community. Rather than direct his anger at me, I urge the Mayor to direct his energy toward reining in spending with these suggestions ... eliminate all less essential budget items and use these funds to construct a new Center 4 Life, rather than spend $90,000 in 2013, and more thereafter, for continuing repairs; if debris removal is necessary, assign this task to the Public Works Department, rather than an outside contractor; and, pay off the Rec Center debt, which would reduce millage rates.