Incorporation of Pine Island is economically feasible, however, the budget on which it could operate as a city would be rather "skinny."
That didn't stop the residents of Greater Pine Island to vote almost unanimously to go ahead to the next step of the incorporation process during the Greater Pine Island Civic Association meeting Tuesday, March 7, at the Elks Lodge.
If all goes according to plan, incorporation, which has become a hot-button topic in the wake of Cape Coral's annexation of five acres of city-owned land and concerns of water quality in the area, could happen as early as 2019, with the first council meetings happening in March of that year.
Joe Mazurkiewicz of BJM Consulting gave a presentation of the findings of his study and answered questions from the nearly packed house, of which there were many.
Mazurkiewicz presented best, worse and middle case scenarios in a five-year forecast for the planned city, which is based on the Matlacha and Pine Island fire district borders, including Cape Royal, and on numbers presented to Mazurkiewicz by the state of Florida.
In the middle case, the city would have revenues of $3,422,122 against expenses of just over $2.7 million by fiscal year 2023, with $3,848,724 in reserves.
The numbers in the study assumed the same millage rate as Lee County, with the city using a system similar to that of Cape Coral - an elected board with a mayor, seven council members as well as a city manager, and other core positions. The first five employees - the manager, a contract specialist, comptroller, city clerk and an administrative assistant - would cost the city $533,250, with another $500,000 for contractual services.
First-year numbers (six months in fiscal year 2019) pegged revenues at $1,981,778, while expenditures totaled $1,044,380. This left $937,398 in possible reserves, according to the study contracted for by the GPICA.
Much of the revenues would be in the form of a $1 million bridge loan to cover the shortfalls in the cost of forming a new government. This would be repaid in the first five years.
But while the numbers seemed impressive when seen in the report, Mazurkiewicz said the budget was "skinny."
"If you were to decide to go forward, in five years you would have some money left. That money isn't very much money. You're not as lucrative as Estero, Bonita or Fort Myers Beach. You don't have anything near the projected revenues," Mazurkiewicz said.
Among the reasons, Mazurkiewicz said, is that the area, with a population of only about 10,000, has very limited growth potential, unlike Bonita and Estero.
The new city would have no new ad valorem taxes and some businesses would be charged an additional annual business tax receipt or city license of $35 to $45 annually.
As for Lee County, it would absorb some loses in revenues. In 2020, the MTSU would lose $1,133,310 of ad valorem taxes and recover just $675,771 through an interlocal agreement, he estimated. The county would also lose $1,761,323 to the general fund.
Mazurkiewicz added that Matlacha doesn't have a lot of solid legal footing in regards to the annexation.
The reaction was very positive. Roger Wood, civic association president, said Mazurkiewicz did a good job of making sure all the bases were covered.
"We're going to go to the next step and we'll see what that reveals. If there are large negative points there, we can pull the plug," Wood said. "If we have support from the community, we'll go ahead."
Mark Penna, a builder who grew up in the area and who recently moved back with his family, said things have changed dramatically since he was a kid - and not for the better.
He said he doesn't want Cape Coral to gobble up Pine Island, which he said would cause it to lose its charm and perhaps destroy what makes people come here, the water.
"I support incorporation if we have to. The city of Cape Coral is not willing to negotiate and guarantee they're not going to take over, then we'll do what we have to do," Penna said. "What so many people move out here for, we want to keep. When you intrude on that, you lose it. You can't get what you have here."
That next step would be to perform a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) study to further examine the pros and cons of incorporation. The area's exposure to hurricanes was considered a significant threat, Mazurkiewicz said.
After the SWOT study and the residents conduct a survey to agree to go further, a bill would be introduced to the local state delegation so it could be introduced to the state Sept. 1. The local delegation consists of State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, State Rep. Ray Rodriguez, State Rep. Matt Caldwell, State Rep. Dane Eagle and State Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen.
If approved by the legislature and the governor signs it, island voters would cast a ballot for or against incorporation. If approved, Pine Island would be incorporated on Dec. 31, 2018.
It would cost between $120,000 and $130,000 to go through the process, Mazurkiewicz said.