To the Editor,
Let me open this letter by stating my objectives in the last six years as an elected member of the city council: reduce taxes, reduce overhead expenses and pay down debt as quickly as prudently possible.
Once again, Mr. (Elton) Shepherd sent a letter to the editor filled with conjecture, lacking facts whatsoever to support his statements and continues to recite wishes that we were more like Fort Myers.
To reiterate, city council's main goal for the past six budget cycles has been to reduce taxes, reduce all overhead expenses, accelerate debt payments and protect our reserves. This council has continued to refine its goals of sustaining and strengthening the City's financial stability by continuing a long-term debt early retirement plan. Let me begin with financial facts about the City's budget and not statements full of conjecture.
First, Mr. Shepherd mentions that the City has $42 million in debt outstanding. The majority of the debt we have on our books today was voted by the people in past referendums. The people voted for acquisitions of a $14.8 million recreation center, a $73.5 million sewer system and $4 million for Pond Apple Park. The total amount of debt in 2006 was close to $70 million of debt and today we have less than $39 million.
We have retired $29 million in the past six years. We will continue to maintain our focus in reducing that debt and retire the remaining debt within 10 years, which would be 50 percent faster than the bonds are required to be paid.
Second, it is extremely difficult to compare Sanibel to Fort Myers in budgets and population. Mr. Shepherd utilizes only half the data I supplied, which is Fort Myers' population, but then misrepresents Sanibel's full time population. The 2012 census indicates there are 6,600 residents of Sanibel. One cannot compare the population data alone to determine our fiscal expenditures. Sanibel's winter population grows almost 500 percent to close to 33,000 people, which is far greater, than that of Fort Myers.
While I have a great deal of admiration for the City of Fort Myers, I chose to live in Sanibel because of its unique qualities. Sanibel is a barrier island sanctuary where over 67 percent of the lands on the island are protected through federal or municipal government of private foundation ownership. Our municipal government is committed to preserving an environment balancing a population with our wildlife and our natural habitats, protecting and maintaining 18 miles of beaches and a strong commitment to maintain water quality. As an elected official, I will not compromise any of our visions for more density.
Third, the Center for Life is a special part of our community. The city council has deferred a potential solution for this facility and will evaluate the community's desires and requirements. City council has allocated $90,000 to any repairs so it can determine the long-term solution of this center. We have only budgeted this amount and will show great prudence before any money is spent. The challenges with the center are parking availability, determining our community's desires and understanding the structural options within our city code and federal regulations.
Fourth, critical to maintaining the river's quality, we send out an RFQ (request for quote) for cleaning and maintaining the Sanibel River. We only received one bid from Mr. Westall and that bid was accepted by the council and awarded him this contract. As I stated before, Mr. Shephard continues to make slanderous statements about this action and an ethical lapse. I am unaware of any link between Mr. Westall's past volunteer public service from several decades ago and the awarding of this contract.
Fifth, Mr. Shepherd continues to mention the building of the recreation center and the $14.8 million construction cost. The recreation center has become more than a facility but a place where the entire community gathers. The public voted (by over 70 percent) to secure a bond of $8.4 million of debt. If the residents had thought the project was too expensive they could have voted against this referendum. We have started to accrue and allocate funds to pay off this bond prematurely. These bonds have provisions that prevent us from paying off the bond before the year 2016.
Sixth, the majority of our debt is from our building of a $73.5 million sewer system, which was an essential component for our efforts to have pristine water quality. The voters approved this action and elected to install a new sewer system by securing a bond offering of almost $63 million. Mr. Shepherd may be unaware the City of Sanibel had financial feasibility studies performed on the sewer system.
Additionally, in 1991, the City adopted an automatic three percent increase a year. This City Council paid almost $3 million of additional principal without such an increase. The City Council has only passed a one percent increase in the last two years. It is extremely challenging to retire debt without passing the three percent increase recommended by the consultants. However, this council's consistent financial prudence has allowed such an accomplishment.
Lastly, I am a proud member of this City Council that has lowered taxes the last six years, passed and balanced the last six budgets, reduced overall expense by 25 percent, reduced debt by over $22 million and protected our reserves. As I have on two specific occasions, I welcome the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Sheppard, or any Sanibel property owner, to discuss any other thoughts on containing expenditures and enhancing the path of financial prudence and stability. I will always have an open door policy to discuss the financial affairs of the City of Sanibel and any other matter a property owner would desire.?
Mayor of Sanibel