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Council covers projects, new hire and masks

By TIFFANY REPECKI / trepecki@breezenewspapers.com - | Apr 13, 2021

The Sanibel City Council directed staff on next steps for the police department and Center 4 Life projects, approved the hiring of an aquatics manager for the Sanibel Recreation Center for a future reimplementation of those programs, and discussed the city’s mask mandate at its recent meeting.

On April 6, City Manager Judie Zimomra outlined for the council the background of the ongoing Sanibel Police Department and Center 4 Life projects. Under the direction of the previous council, the police project entails renovating and expanding the existing department at a cost of about $5 million. The Center 4 Life project entails relocating the facility to a Library Way building bought last year.

“We have asked for direction and next steps on each of these,” she said.

On the police project, Zimomra explained that a proposal estimating the costs for architectural, engineering and construction has been completed. Staff were seeking council direction in the areas of financing, management and timing, plus the relocation of police operations during the remodel.

After a lengthy discussion that included questions from the dais and input from staff, including Zimomra and Police Chief William Dalton, the council approved a motion 5-0 for staff to examine the options available for relocating the police based on pre-pandemic service levels should the project proceed. The staff’s report will include third-party rentals, senior program relocation and more.

As for the Center 4 Life, Zimomra explained that the land and building on Library Way were previously purchased by the city, but no design steps have been taken for the project. After some discussion, the council voted 5-0 for staff to proceed with picking an architect for the project.

Also during the meeting, Zimomra provided council with an update on the recreation center and its usage, including suspended programs and vacant funded and unfunded positions. She explained that a popular area with high attendance was the aquatics programming, which the center is not offering due to pandemic staffing cuts. Staff proposed hiring an aquatics manger to start rebuilding the program.

Zimomra added that staff has identified one candidate for the position.

During discussion, some on council sought confirmation from staff that refilling the position was a need versus a want. Zimomra explained that a manager would be needed to restart the program.

“This is the first step in rebuilding the aquatics program,” she said.

With that confirmation by city staff, the council voiced its support.

“I think we should grasp this opportunity and hire the individual,” Councilmember Mike Miller said. “I think it will be an important component of our program moving forward.”

Vice Mayor Richard Johnson agreed.

“I think the aquatics program is one of the key programs we have at the center,” he said. “I look forward to it returning.”

The council voted 5-0 to approve the aquatics manager hiring.

On a related note, council also directed staff to put together a plan with options for a fall reopening of the recreation center at full capacity, including associated costs, for presentation at a future meeting.

Also at the meeting, Mayor Holly Smith raised the subject of the city’s mask mandate, sharing that council’s discussion about it should probably start up again as the vaccinations become more available and as more people become vaccinated. She asked for the rest of the council’s thoughts on the topic.

Johnson reported that the council should base its decision on the medical experts and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adding that what he is hearing does not support lifting it yet.

“At this point, it would be premature to drop the mask requirement,” he said.

Councilmember Dr. Scott Crater agreed.

“For right now, I would just stick with masks,” he said. “But ask me in a month and I might feel differently.”

Echoing the same sentiment, Councilmember John Henshaw said he hoped to lift it by May or June.

“We are at a point now when we can seriously start thinking about when we can lift the mandate,” he said. “We have to make a thoughtful decision for the majority of our residents.”

Miller and Smith sided with the others.

“I think this is the conversation we need to start having,” Smith said.

IN OTHER NEWS

– The council voted 5-0 to not hold the city’s annual Fourth of July fireworks.

– The council directed staff on implementing crosswalk protection measures at Sanibel-Captiva Road and Rabbit Road, to include warning signs and signage for shared-use path and crosswalk users.

– The council voted 5-0 to approve two separate entertainment licenses, one for 400 Rabbits at 975 Rabbit Road and one for Traders at 1551 Periwinkle Way; representatives for both applicants spoke at the meeting and answered council questions. It also voted 5-0 to deny two, special event permits for the Sundial Beach Resort & Spa; there were no representatives for the applicant present at the meeting.

– The council voted 5-0 to approve a request from the Captiva Community Panel’s Sea Level Rise Committee and Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation to include the city of Sanibel as a partner in a 2021 grant application for a Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaption Analysis for both islands.