It’s Not About The Money

by Barbara Joy Cooley

Sunrise on Sanibel’s Silver Key, surrounded by conservation land. Photo 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.

Comments (10)

  1. Myra Wood Bennett

    I agree with this 100%. I am from Illinois and began visiting Sanibel in 2000. Since then I have come back at least 2-3 times a year and the reason I come back is because it isn’t like anywhere else. I have a friends who live full time on Sanibel. I have friends who work on Sanibel, and again, I side with the residents on this 100%. I have a Facebook page on the history of Sanibel and Captiva and have a heart connection with the Islands that I don’t think some of the business people do. I had a verbal agreement with one of the business men for three years only for him to curtly tell me “he’d pass” when I let him know the project was done. He didn’t grow up on Sanibel, he is “business”. Frank Bailey would have never dealt with someone in such a dismissive way and Frank, as anyone who knows anything about Sanibel, was one of the original citizens. About a week ago I left the Sanibel Life Facebook page because people were being so cold and selfish about their vacation and the Sanibel folks who kept saying “everything is fine, come on down”, to me at least, were simply condo owners. The virus in on the Island. One of your residents died a little over a week ago. It is the residents who comprise Sanibel, always has been, always will be!

  2. Well said!

  3. Les Pendleton

    The only thing I can agree with in Barbara Joy Cooley’s comments is her statement that “By and large, it is the residential property owners, not commercial property owners, who fund the City.”

    So why is it that approximately 75% of the residential property owners can not vote in city elections. So why is it that 25% of the property owners control the elections i.e. the Money.

    All property owners should have the right to vote for our elected officials. All property owners should have the right to vote on all money (funding) issues.

    We need a good mix of commercial property. We don’t need to drive businesses off of Sanibel.

    Ms Cooley may not mind driving into Ft Myers for dinner out at a nice restaurant, for a gallon of milk, gas or to do her banking. But I do.

    Give every property owner the right to vote in city elections.

    I’ve been coming to Sanibel for thirty years and have lived on the island full time for eighteen years.

    Leslie Pendleton Jr.

  4. Nancy Greenberg

    Well said! Our City Council should take note. Protection of the residents of Sanibel should be top priority!

  5. Barbara has nailed it again. Always important topics and always well thought out and researched opinions.

  6. Thank you, Barbara, for articulating this so well.
    Perhaps all five members of the next City Council will listen to the residents when it comes to our health and environment.

  7. Valerie Tutor

    While I am adamant our island remain a sanctuary island and I agree with most of what Ms. Cooley has said – there is point that has to be made here. Most of our residents are not eligible to vote in our elections as they are not permanent residents here. Many of the “residential property taxes” and values are derived from condos and homes that are also purchased by people who then rent them out for income as well as their own use. There are the minority of property owners here that are full time permanent residents who do not rent. We are first and foremost, a sanctuary island, but our plan was not designed to make this an island only for a select wealthy few. I am a native Floridian & my family has owned property on both Sanibel & Captiva throughout the years since the early 1960s. I am a full time resident and lament some of the changes I have seen, but also understand others. There is a way to balance maintaining our identity while still being attractive to visitors. They are not mutually exclusive. Updating our commercial buildings properly is not a bad thing. Allowing chain/formula interests are a bad thing as is the panic over alligators & coyotes on the island. It is a matter of balance and making wise decisions. For the most part, I think our elected officials have worked hard to do that. It is not an easy job & I am grateful for those who are willing to take it on.

  8. I’ve loved this Island since 1956 and have been proud to see most of the changes that have occurred. However,I still think about some issues that we, as residents, had little input – such as the “Core” with 500 car parking places in the theater area. How about voting for the ever expanding expenses at the library and all the expensive changes ? Perhaps I was not here for those Library expenditures. The residents need to be REALLY informed of such votes..

  9. We’ve lived on the island for forty years, and it’s the same complaints. I think Barbara’s points are well taken, but what people may be complaining about is the abundance of visitors that crowd the islands. As a biker, I don’t use the paths during season, too dangerous.
    Commercial interests do seem to take priority. However, what is the percentage of non-residents who pay taxes? And how much do they pay.
    If you’re unhappy make sure you vote for Council Members who agree with you.

  10. Thank you Barbara for another insightful commentary. Indeed Sanibel should be first and foremost a Sanctuary Island; that is what brings people here to live full time, part time or occasionally. That said, it is sad to see that turtle nests were destroyed in neighboring Captiva, that beaches on Sanibel are filled with debris including umbrella rods, goggles, masks, fishing line, cans & various other pieces of junk I saw just this morning on a west end beach walk. More importantly, if people are so enamored with Sanibel, they should educate themselves about our island and what it means to all of us, maybe then they would understand that leaving their litter on the beaches, a miniature golf course or a swim with the dolphins is not who we are. Maybe then they would understand that, as Valerie says above, balancing ourselves to maintain our identity while still attracting visitors is the key to keeping our sanctuary island. Business is good, as long as it’s responsible and respectful. I too, would like to thank our City Council for finally doing the right thing and voting for masks on Sanibel. Indeed, it’s not an easy job, but it is a job for people who respect the sanctuary of our island and understand the balance! I hope people like that will run for City Council in March!

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