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City funds audit of Causeway project

By Staff | Mar 8, 2013

JIM LINETTE Sanibel City Council is paying for an independent audit of the Causeway reconstruction and maintenance project in an effort to resume collecting a percentage of the bridge tolls.

Sanibel City Council approved a resolution Tuesday to hire an outside consultant to audit all pertinent data regarding the financing of the Sanibel Causeway reconstruction and maintenance expenses.

“I want an accounting of what the bridge cost,” said Mayor Kevin Ruane. “I want to know how it was bonded and funded and I look forward to seeing this report.”

In a tight economy with limited tax dollars streaming into the city budget, Sanibel is looking for new sources of revenue. The city collected a percentage of bridge tolls before the causeway reconstruction project and seeks to restore that revenue, perhaps as soon as later this year.

“The city sued Lee County over the bridge design process and part of the settlement states that whenever the Junior Lien (a kind of second mortgage) is paid off the city will get 21 percent of the tolls collected,” said City Manager Judie Zimomra. “The tolls were to be used for bridge maintenance and any issues on the roads to and from the causeway, but the county has used it for other projects like the Summerlin flyover on the premise that ‘it’s on the way to the bridge’.”

City officials believe the Junior Lien could have been paid off by now and part of the audit’s purpose is to establish that time frame. A weigh station on the causeway, which was eliminated in the reconstruction project, also provided limited funds to Sanibel.

The resolution passed Tuesday authorized $12,500 to consultant Roy Hyman to do the audit, expected to be completed within six weeks.

“I believe this is a good use of (our) funds,” said Ruane. “There is a definite need for an accounting of bridge expenses, especially considering cracks in the structure have been found. I want to make sure the county is not spending toll money on non-bridge related projects.”

Lee County Commissioners have extended its annual invitation for a joint meeting with Sanibel City Council, which the council plans on accepting for the first time since 2004, given the causeway audit and a proposed county impact fee rollback.

“This will be good for the citizens of Sanibel and as long as the meeting is here, in MacKenzie Hall” said Ruane. “

Council directed city staff to come up with an agreeable date for the meeting before responding to the county in writing.

Council also authorized the expenditure of $25,000 for an independent needs assessment for the Center 4 Life building on Library Way, which has roof and structural issues that needs to be addressed.

The second reading and public hearing regarding changes to the Sanibel Plan was deferred to a future council meeting. The hearing was prompted by objections to the Sanibel Plan received from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. The city submitted the Sanibel Plan to the state on Dec. 4 and received the objections, recommendations and comments from the DEO on Jan 31.

Council is holding a commercial redevelopment workshop at 9 a.m. on March 12 with the next regular council meeting set for March 19.