by Barbara Joy Cooley
By and large, what fuels our local government, the City of Sanibel, is income from property tax. Where does most of this revenue come from? Residential or commercial property?
According to the Lee County Property Appraiser’s 2020 Preliminary Tax Roll Totals for Sanibel, the island has about $4.87 billion in taxable residential property out of a total of $5.36 billion in taxable real estate. By and large, it is the residential property owners, not commercial property owners, who fund the City.
In addition to property tax income, the City of Sanibel has some other revenue streams, such as charges for services like planning department permits and solid waste tipping fees. Much of these are services for residential property dwellers.
By definition, those who vote in Sanibel elections are Sanibel residents.
Sanibel residents should rule when it comes to making decisions about how this island is governed and developed. Do they? Do elected and appointed officials always put the interests of residents at the highest priority when they make decisions? Are they ever overly interested in the well-being of commercial interests to the detriment of residential interests? What do you think?
Judging by some emails that are flying back and forth in my neighborhood, some residents are worried that commercial interests are being prioritized over the health and well-being of residents. One neighbor summed the concerns up by writing, “We cannot forfeit or compromise the Island’s character, ambience and the plans that were established in 1974 and updated through time. This is not a tourist attraction with tatoo parlours, T-shirts hanging on doorways, etc. . . . it is a sanctuary and needs to remain as such. It’s not about the buck folks!!! Island residents shouldn’t have to forfeit our lifestyle to accommodate the businesses.”
The pressure for commercialization is unending. On the Facebook group page called “Sanibel Island,” an entrepreneurial resident of New York State this week was seriously advocating for a miniature golf course to be built on Sanibel. When it was gently suggested that she read the Sanibel Plan before proposing development of attractions here, she became irate. A week earlier, another woman planning a vacation here voiced the expectation that she could sign up to “swim with the dolphins.” Sanibel residents had to explain to her that “swimming with the dolphins” is not a thing on this island; you go elsewhere for that. Here we observe the dolphins from a beach or a kayak or other boat.
Another type of visitor on the Sanibel Island Facebook group page will state that because they spend money on the island, they should have a say in what happens here. Really. Even having been here, some visitors do not understand that this island isn’t about money; it is about nature. Fortunately, some do understand that.
Sanibel citizens have clearly stated their values and priorities in the Sanibel Vision Statement, which is much more than the abbreviated version that hangs on the walls of the City Council Chambers. The whole statement is two pages long, and is contained in section 1 of the Sanibel Plan. When it comes to suggestions to commercialize Sanibel, the final sentences of the Vision Statement provide a powerful message: “Sanibel shall be developed as a community only to the extent to which it retains and embraces this quality of sanctuary. Sanibel will serve as attraction only to the extent to which it retains its desired qualities as sanctuary and community.”
We are not about money. That’s what we, the citizens of Sanibel, have decided, again and again.