A Look Back and Look Ahead: Sanibel in 2011 and 2012
When asked how he would sum-up the Year of 2011, City of Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane speaks as one operating in survival mode, and that’s not too difficult to fathom given the peculiarities, and predicaments, wrought in the economics of this era. The good news for Sanibel is that so much of what has happened, and is happening, was so well foreseen by city leaders that this community got prepared while others were still trying to figure what was happening.
Mayor Ruane was raised in a family where many work in the financial industry. His career as an accountant and specialist in the area of financing was not only successful enough to allow him to retire in Sanibel at the age of 43, but empowered him, to hear him describe it, with certain powers of prognostication.
He takes to financial news and finance industry information with a fascination that rivals that other hold for less significant news, say, anything involving a Bieber Boy or Kadashian girl.
Ruane is in to numbers, and is also self-described as a voracious reader. So, even before he landed the Mayor’s office in 2007, he predicted a looming economic downturn and pushed others to prepare.
“We’ve been proactive as opposed to reactive,” says Ruane, who admits some of the City’s actions were not readily supported. He says the advocating of cutbacks and restructuring of pension plans (such as what occurred in the police department) were not necessarily popular, but economic necessities designed to mitigate impact.
“This recession has left no one untouched,” says Ruane.
So last year, he says, was all about “living within our means.” This required going through budgets with “plastic surgeon” precision. The fact that city workers are now required to wash their uniforms at home is just one indication of the degree The City is working to reduce costs.
Ruane says running a municipality could be likened to running a business, “the city is the corporation.”
That includes making wise choices on expenditures and reducing costs; the kind of thinking which has Sanibel faring finer than its counterparts in the county; not to mention communities throughout the country.
Beyond preparations, Ruane says Sanibel’s success is due to leadership of a city council that, at this time, is comprised by people who understand accounting practices and strategies for running a successful business. Doug Congress, for example, is a Certified Public Accountant, while Jim Jennings is a math teacher. Mick Denham had a long career in high tech before retiring to Sanibel and Marty Harrity has a long distinguished career in area business. For readers not aware, unlike many communities throughout Florida, none of the City Council, nor even the Mayor, are paid one penny for their service to the city. They make the necessary, and sometimes hard choices, and sometimes take the heat, solely out of their commitment to the community. Ruane refers to each of the council as “ingredients” in Sanibel’s recipe for success.
Some of that success could be measured in terms of the City’s effort to address alterations in development codes, which now provide incentive for small inn owners to more modernize properties within the Island’s Resort Housing District.
It could also be reflected in the City’s holding of certain surplus which will soon allow for a reduction in development permitting fees, though exact rates are as yet determined.
Looking ahead to 2012, the year will begin with the City sponsoring a number of public hearings to consider needed changes in the commercial district. All of it is intended to ensure Sanibel, as a haven for tourists, remains competitive on a world market, but not in a way that forsakes the environmental qualities that make it so enviable in the first place.
And what would working for the public be without public works?
In 2011, according to Gates Castle at Public Works, the department projects included: construction of a shared use path along Dunlop Road, Wooster Lane and Periwinkle Way; connection of the City’s shared use path system to Captiva; replacement of the Lindgren Boulevard box culvert with a new bridge; replacement of the City Hall roof with an energy-efficient white metal model; replacement of three dune walkovers at Lighthouse Beach; installation of stationary emergency generators for two major wastewater pump stations on San-Cap Road; widening of 1.6 miles of shared use paths; and resurfacing of five miles worth of city streets.
In 2012, Public Works will begin the rehabilitation and painting of Sanibel’s famed lighthouse. They will also begin construction of the Bailey Road shared use path, an extension of the Dixie Beach Blvd shared use path and widening of the shared use paths along Tarpon Bay Road as well as Middle Gulf Drive, among other things.
It is going to be a busy year in Sanibel, and Mayor Kevin Ruane is going to be a little busier too.
He was recently appointed Chairperson of the Florida Municipal Insurance Trust (FMIT) Board of Trustees. The FMIT Board of Trustees is comprised of elected officials who actively participate in the Trust and governs the Florida Municipal Investment Trust (FMIvt).
The Florida League of Cities (FLC) established the insurance program in 1977 providing Workers’ Compensation coverage, then later liability, property and health insurance. With more than 600 members, the program helps provide Florida Cities with affordable insurance.
Ruane’s appointment follows certain recommendations made by City Manager Judi Zimomra. She had been contacted, she says, because “Sanibel is known for having talent” which has helped, so often, to address regional issues of concern.
Sanibel’s Mayor will now be helping to ensure that all Florida communities coping with insurance costs, are getting the most bang for their buck.