News and Updates 6-5-20

News and Updates from the Greater Pine Island Civic Association

These certainly have been interesting times since we’ve last seen you and we hope this email finds you in good health and good spirits. While we have not been able to hold membership meetings for the last several months due to Covid-19, we wanted to let you know what’s been happening.

First of all, we want to share the sad news of the passing of GPICA Board Member Nancy Harwood in May. Nancy was a long-time resident of Matlacha dedicated to protecting the environment and making our community a better place. She was such a wonderful, thoughtful lady and we will miss her greatly.

The GPICA Board met in February and in early March (just before everything shut down due to Covid-19). The Board did not meet in April but did meet via Zoom in May.

In February:

  • The Board discussed the draft update of the 2017 Feasibility study initially conducted by Joe Mazurkiewicz at BJM Consulting. The Board had numerous unanswered questions about the draft and voted to request a meeting with Joe to gain additional information.
  • We also discussed the proposed signage for the new Publix planned for Pine Island Road near the center. The size of the sign was too large and we authorized Board President Scott Wilkinson to send a letter requesting it be scaled down. Publix responded that the sign will be smaller than that requested in their documentation now at the County. The size should be finalized this summer.

In March:

  • The Board discussed problems and concerns with the feasibility study (see below for details) and voted to request additional guidance from our Attorney Bob Pritt.

The Board did not meet in April.

In May:

  • The Board authorized President Scott Wilkinson to ask the Lee County Commission to put a non-binding referendum on the November ballot because the deadline for the Commission to make the request of the Lee County Supervisor of Elections to do so is July 6. It was our last opportunity to appear before the full Commission to make the request.
  • We also appointed Leoma Lovegrove to finish out Nancy Harwood’s term.

Feasibility Study Update

As part of his work to revise the feasibility study, Joe Mazurkiewicz met with Lee County staff to discuss the cost of services to a new incorporated Greater Pine Island community (if the new town council decided to contract with the county).

As you may recall, the initial 2017 study indicated that the proposed community would be sustainable without a tax increase.

  • However, now Lee County says it would require the new community to take over all parks and recreation facilities (or pay the full cost of running them) for an additional $615,000 annually.
  • The County has also changed the way it collects fees for unincorporated areas of the county. Instead of taxing those areas directly, it is now using franchise fees to supplement those funds. This means that the County is adding an additional $582,703 cost to the proposed community.
  • The GPICA Board also expressed other concerns with the figures provided by County staffand consulted with our attorney, who said the community could not be forced to take over or pay for the parks. The Board also reached out to other organizations that work with communities to provide services to municipalities to see what options exist and whether the new Town could contract with other entities to provide services at a lower cost to the new municipality.

That investigation is ongoing at this time and there are no definitive answers. At this time, the Board has not approved the draft study. (View the Lee County-provided figures here.)

GPICA Requests Non-Binding Incorporation Referendum Be Placed on the November Ballot

On Tuesday, June 2, GPICA Board President Scott Wilkinson appeared before the Lee County Commission to request that Commissioners place a non-binding referendum related to incorporation of Greater Pine Island on the November ballot. We believe this would be the best way to gauge community support for incorporation at this time.

  • All registered voters in the affected areas (including Bokelia, Pineland, Pine Island Center, St. James City, Matlacha and Matlacha Isles) would have the opportunity to vote on whether they support incorporation.
  • The vote would be non-binding — that means this vote would not lead directly to incorporation. This would merely gauge what percentage of the community would like to continue moving forward.
  • We made the request at this time, as the deadline for the Commission to add the question to the November ballot is July 6.

Here is the full text of Scott’s Request of the Commissioners

Good Morning Commissioners.

My name is Scott Wilkinson. I live in Bokeelia, on Pine Island, and am President of the Greater Pine Island Civic Association, which has represented the residents of the Matlacha/Pine Island community since 1957. Our main role over our 63-year history has been to protect our coastal-rural nature.
I’m here today at the request of our Board and Members to request that you put a non-binding referendum on the November Ballot asking registered voters of Matlacha/Pine Island whether they support incorporation.

Incorporation is an issue that has been considered by residents for many years and we believe that having the County conduct a referendum is the best way to gauge the community’s feelings on this matter. Putting this issue on the ballot would ensure that all registered voters in the Greater Pine Island/ Matlacha community have the chance to have their opinions heard.

Incorporation has been discussed by the community for several years as we’ve watched Cape Coral make advances that we feel encroach on our community. For example, in 2016, after Cape Coral purchased property on Pine Island Road in Matlacha and proposed to annex it so it would fall under the city’s land-use rules — ignoring the Pine Island land use plan that residents worked so hard to develop and now guides land use in our community — the Civic Association began in earnest exploring the feasibility of incorporating, developing a feasibility study in 2017 and later a charter.

Earlier this year, after we requested that a non-binding referendum about Pine Island/Matlacha incorporation be placed on the ballot we met with County staff and agreed that we would update the feasibility study. Our consultant reached out to Lee County staff to determine the costs for our potential municipality were it to contract with the County to provide specific services. At this time, we have not completed this study because we feel the new additional costs provided by County staff have been exaggerated.

For example, County staff said the County would require our new municipality to take over the local parks at a recurring annual cost of more than $600,000. However, our Attorney, Robert Pritt, advises us that the new incorporated community would have no legal obligation to take on this responsibility. And the County did not require this of Sanibel, Bonita Springs, Estero or Fort Myers Beach when those communities incorporated.

We are committed to resolve these issues. However, we are nearing the deadline for the County to put a measure on the ballot that would allow us to gauge community support — similar to the measure that was twice put on the ballot for Lehigh Acres.

At this time, The Greater Pine Island Civic Association requests that the Lee County Commission put this question on the ballot as a non-binding referendum. And we will be willing to pay the costs of adding this to the ballot.

We feel this matter is urgent, as the deadline for the County Commission to request this question be added to the November ballot is July 6.

Let’s let the voters decide.

Thank you for your consideration.

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