Guest commentary: Neighbor to neighbor: Something we can all agree on

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By Ben Nelson

Mayor

City of Bonita Springs

On behalf of the city of Bonita Springs, I’d like to congratulate our neighbors in Estero for taking the first important steps in moving toward potential cityhood.

However, there have been some misconceptions surrounding the city of Bonita Springs’ annexation referendum efforts and the processes that the community of Estero is undertaking.

I want it to be completely clear that Bonita Springs is supportive of residents’ right of self-determination, and that we feel it is proper that the Estero Council of Community Leaders (ECCL) and others pursue avenues that allow those residents to better assess whether incorporation is desired.

Having personally been part of the Bonita Springs incorporation experience 14 years ago, I know that although they have accomplished one of the first phases: — the completion of a financial feasibility report — the Estero community still has a long way to go in this process over the course of the next year.

Rest assured, we plan to maintain an open dialogue moving forward.

It’s also important to note that annexation and incorporation are two separate legal mechanisms. Annexation means joining an existing city and having the opportunity to actively take part in a well-established government with a much greater say in crafting that city’s local ordinances, planning and leadership. Incorporation, or starting an entire new city from scratch, is much more complex and uncertain. Both require a vote by the people. Both have the ultimate goal of unifying a community through greater home rule, and by keeping taxes in the community to enjoy efficient and responsive services.

For these very reasons, the city of Bonita Springs is offering an annexation referendum to a section of the Pelican Landing community that was left out of the original Bonita Springs incorporation in 2000. Presently, the Pelican Landing Community Association (PLCA) is subjected to two disparate governments in handling communitywide issues affecting its 6,000 residents. So in their case, combining more than 40 neighborhoods into one community, one city, makes plain, old-fashioned common sense.

It’s also important to note that we aren’t offering annexation into the city of Bonita Springs because we need to expand our tax base — we don’t. This city has been financially robust for its entire 14 years of existence. We are offering the opportunity for the Pelican Landing community, which is 80% within incorporated Bonita Springs and 20 percent within unincorporated Lee County, to unite together in one municipality. In fact, the PLCA Board voted unanimously to support the referendum and keep Pelican Landing whole.

The city of Bonita Springs has discussed offering this referendum to these good residents for several years but has refrained from doing so while we focused on preparing the way by enhancing our city services. Terms like ‘“encroach”, “land grab” and “war” are unfortunate misrepresentations of the city’s honest intent, which is to to ask the residents — in a legally defined contiguous communities — to choose their own fate. This process is and always has been open, simple and rational.

Regarding the Estero incorporation effort, many challenges lie ahead, and as progress is made, there will be plenty of opportunities for community leaders to discuss logistics and technical issues as they arise. In the meantime, as an existing municipality, we are undertaking a rightful obligation to ask neighbors and residents if they want to have a stronger, more cohesive voice in their local government and more cost-effective services and tax rates by becoming citizens of the city of Bonita Springs — a city that offers a top-notch quality of life, has state-of-the-art, premier amenities and prime access to some of the most pristine beaches in the world. In essence, the city is inviting more people power and more voters to share in this common bond: embracing the beauty of their Gateway to the Gulf.

After all, it doesn’t get much better than living in Southwest Florida — and that’s something we can all agree on!

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