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As Blind Pass opens, CEPD remains fired up and ready

By Staff | Sep 9, 2009

At the AFL/CIO annual picnic in Cincinnati on Labor Day, President Obama told a cute story. He spoke about a very enthusiastic little lady who upstaged him at a small whistle stop in North Carolina during his campaign.

This supporter wiggled and squirmed excitedly, all the while exclaiming, “Fired up?” The crowd responded, “Fired up!” She shouted, “Ready to go?” The crowd responded, “Ready to go!” “Fired up? Ready to go!” The pump was on.

While the president’s story fired up the crowd, his purpose was to get the union crowd ready to go. The theme of Mr. Obama’s address was health care. The “fired up” health care debate had already made this a very hot summer, indeed. Our summer seems filled with fired up crowds, ready to go (in just about every way and every direction.) Isn’t our republic grand?

What does it take to get Captivans fired up? I mean, really fired up! What does it take to get Captivans ready to go? How does anything compete to get on Captiva’s collective radar scope? Beach matters compete for attention with an economy struggling to avoid the depths of disaster. We compete with the “trillion dollar” issues of our day: bailouts, stimulus plans, health care, taxes, unemployment, economic disasters within Lee County, the hungry, the environment, global warming, etc. Is it still possible to get Captiva’s attention? Can anything, short of a hurricane, “fire up” Captiva?

Well Captiva, I’m fired up! The long awaited opening of Blind Pass has been accomplished. The event of the century is “ready to go!” The marine and avian life abound in the Pass, the current flows mostly at 3.5 feet per second as this great natural wonder no longer looks and smells like Captiva’s effluent. Every day, I watch thousands of creatures in Blind Pass: from snook, shrimp and squid to Goliath groupers and manatees. Not least of all, I watch hundreds of smiling faces, as people, critters and all species of birds flock from all over to this wonderful amenity. Yes, Captiva and Sanibel residents, visitors, business and property owners are indeed fired up!

The opening of Blind Pass is indeed a success; managed by Lee County Natural Resources and paid for with our tax dollars: 35 percent from Captiva Erosion Prevention District (CEPD), 35 percent from Lee County (VCB) and 30 percent from the Florida DEP. The City of Sanibel, a valuable partner and contributor, constructed the bayous culverts flowing water integral to the process under San-Cap Road. As well, local advocates such as the Bayous Preservation Association and Captiva Community Panel boosted morale and contributed in many ways to help make a success. Equally importantly, CEPD are fired up at the cooperation of all governments and communities involved. Thanks are due to all contributors!

Then, why do I say, “Be ready to go.” How about a critical case looming before the U.S. Supreme Court which directly impacts Captiva and the CEPD? The highest court in the land agreed to hear a petitioner’s case vs. Florida DEP; the plaintiff’s oppose Florida beach re-nourishment laws. By late fall, we may be the recipients of ominous news from the ultimate U.S. bench. Should the high court rule for the plaintiff; we may in fact suffer the demise of the Florida Beach and Shore Preservation Act. If so, we can kiss a major source of funding goodbye for future beach re-nourishments, indeed, what will it do to the very viability of beach re-nourishments?

At the federal level, problems abound. Naturally, revenues are scarce and scarcer; competition for funds creates conflict. The U.S. Senate faces opposition to beach funding from sources such as Sen. Coburn of Oklahoma The Senator opposes Army Corps of Engineers support of beaches and any other federal funding for beaches. If this and the high court challenge were not sufficient, coastal communities’ principal source of state funding for beach and shorelines is also in jeopardy.

For years, that source has been documentary stamps on loans and mortgages, one percent of which were legally dedicated to beaches. With real estate in the doldrums, this source is now less significant, as doc stamps dwindle to a small fraction of prior years.

And then there are the imminent risks of off-shore drilling. Does this deserve some small part of your attention? The Florida legislature, desperate for funding, may consider a special session; if this happens, they may approve such undesirable drilling post haste. Remember the end of last year’s legislative session? Only lack of time stopped the Florida Senate from agreeing to consider the drilling bill rushed through the house last session. This summer has had its distractions, but the allure of drilling revenues still looms ominously over Tallahassee.

Want to get really fired up? Let’s talk taxes, local taxes. Despite falling Captiva property values, our combined Captiva property taxes climbed to slightly more than $20 million in 2008 and to almost $21 million in 2009. Let me repeat, as Captiva property values are falling, Captiva taxes are climbing. This does not include the estimated $2 million in Lee County bed taxes or the $2.5 million in accommodations sales taxes. Otherwise, Captiva’s combined 2009 non-income taxes would be over $25 million .

CEPD contributes to this increase, with its own plans of increasing ad valorum taxes by $68thousand, effectively a budget increase of about 33 percent over 2008. Why should CEPD increase taxes in such an environment? The simple answer is need! We need to be “ready to go” for the next re-nourishment. In fiscal year 2006-07, CEPD initiated plans which reduced CEPD financial reserves by over $2.3 million dollars.

Adopting a “pay as you go” fiscal policy, (post Hurricane Charley), your CEPD voted to deliberately assess one million dollars less in beach assessments than was CEPD’s legal right to collect. That’s right, you paid one million less than you otherwise would have paid. As well, CEPD agreed to pay Captiva’s entire share of the Blind Pass project from its reserves, sans assessment, your share for opening Blind Pass was paid by CEPD out of your CEPD reserves. CEPD published and advertised this fact over the past few years, announcing it was espousing a taxing philosophy which levied needed funds, if and when needed, rather than gratuitously.

What does this mean? You effectively had $1 million reduced from your last beach assessment and another $1.3 million in assessments for Blind Pass have been displaced by CEPD reserves. However, as CEPD pays the bills, it will need money (taxes) to help pay the interest on the last re-nourishment loan and prepare for the next project.

Eliminating gratuitous reserves was indeed a prudent CEPD decision. Nevertheless, CEPD never anticipated in 2006 and 2007 either the economic meltdown or an impending Supreme Court challenge; nobody did. Still, CEPD is in good hands, fiscally and otherwise. Through levying small amounts of incremental annual taxes, CEPD is ready to go forward, preserving the policy of minimal reserves. Effectively, the $2.3 million in reduced CEPD reserves stayed in the taxpayers’ pockets. Even if CEPD collected $100,000 annually in incremental taxes (not contemplated), it would take a quarter of a century to collect the amount earlier reduced from reserves.

Got your interest yet? Captivans have an opportunity on Monday, Sept. 14 to hear this first hand and raise questions relating to the CEPD agenda and the budget. Yes, you can have your own town meeting to confront our reasoning; meet face-to-face with your elected CEPD commissioners. Come to the ‘Tween Waters Inn’s Wakefield Room on Monday at 4 p.m. for the CEPD regular meeting and/or 5 p.m. for the CEPD’s tentative budget hearing.

If you can’t imagine Captiva without a beach, get “fired up” and get “ready to go.”