Skip to main content

Bridge approves Lee camera reader; traffic up 19 percent

May 2, 2024
By Garland Pollard

In news from the most recent meeting of the Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority, members approved allowing Lee County to install a license tag reader on the bridge, as well as noting a 19 percent increase in traffic in the first half of the fiscal year. 

Currently, GIBA keeps the tag information of drivers crossing the bridge but it is not for law enforcement purposes.

“We only use it to charge people tolls,” said Executive Director Kathy Banson. To allow the device, the commissioners approved a memorandum of understanding between Lee and Charlotte sheriffs to install the device. It will be paid for by Lee County. The bridge will check tags coming and going from the island.

Traffic up 19 percent

At the meeting, the Finance Committee report included a review of the fiscal year 2024 financial statements as of March 31, 2024. Traffic is up 19 percent to 103,562 vehicles as compared to the same period last year (October – March).

Revenue totals are $3.3 million, which is a 5 percent increase over budget and expenses are down 3 percent compared to the budget. Overall, income from operations is up 14 percent ($147,695). GIBA continues to build cash reserves for debt prepayment and the funding of the capital bridge replacement account. The current debt to income ratio is 3.55 which is well above the 1.25 required in loan covenants. The current balance in the capital reserve investment account is $7.2 million.  

At the meeting, GIBA approved a transfer of $750,000 into their investment account. Currently the bridge has a reserve of $2.1 million. 

Representatives from Dana Investment Advisors attended the meeting to give an investment report, including Vice President Dave Mazza and Portfolio Manager Matt Slowinski, who reported a yield on the portfolio of 5.4 percent. 

The meeting was the first with Drew Tucker as board chairman. At the meeting, he sought to clarify standing board policies for the members. Tucker reviewed GIBA policies relating to travel to ensure a quorum at meeting. They updated that transportation would only be provided within the United States. “We just didn’t want to fly someone in from their vacation in France,” said Banson.

Board Minutes

The board also revisited a previous discussion about what was in written board minutes. They reiterated that minutes of the meetings were not verbatim, but there would always be a recorded version of each meeting, as part of the public record keeping of the agency. Banson reiterated that all actions by the board, both written and recorded, are public.

“If you make it, it’s public,” said Banson.

Another board policy reviewed was check writing, and the minimum amount needed for a board chairman signature. Currently, the practice had been $2,000, but was revised upwards to $10,000. Member Ron Drake advised dual signatures as a best practice. Banson said that the current practice is that there is a separation of duties, so that the person writing the check on staff was not the same person who was signing it. 

Member Emerson Wickwire also brought up previous discussions over the length of time it took to review investments by committee, what he called “the mess last year.” 

During that continued discussion over standing board policies, the group had a heated discussion about the meaning and use of the state’s sunshine law. Wickwire expressed the need for board members to do their own work as part of a “fact-finding committee.” He had gone so far as to contact officials in Tallahassee, and read from a public definition of fact-finding from the state.

 “You can talk to each other as long as you are gathering information,” said Wickwire. “You can get all the grunt work done before you have a meeting.”

“We have to agree to disagree,” said GIBA’s attorney, Rob Berntsson.

In the executive director’s report, Banson reported on attending the April 17 town hall of local officials from Lee and Charlotte counties at the Boca Grande Community Center. The meeting was to talk about cooperation, or the lack of it, between the counties on mostly emergency issues. Advisory member Ken Richardson asked if it was “always this bad.” Banson said no. She remarked on having a Charlotte County sheriff at the bridge in 2004, the year of Hurricane Charley, to help secure island access. “Conversations are starting, and people are working to make those relationships improve,” said Banson.

Banson attended with Ron Drake. “I would like to share with the board that she did handstands and cartwheels in representing GIBA,” said Drake.

Other bridge news:

• Bike Safety: GIBA will get a report on the grates and drainage on the bridge, in the hope of facilitating safer bike crossings. Bicycles can cross the bridge and by state law, vehicles are supposed to give them three feet. However, there are places where the surface is uneven.

• Ian Damage: The bridge received a reimbursement check from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for $42,000. They are expecting another payment, Banson said.

• Elections: GIBA staff prepared a qualifying handbook for candidates for the upcoming GIBA elections. There are three seats going up for election this year; the qualifying dates for the election are from Monday, June 10 to Friday June 14. The papers include forms and dates. The election, according to the Lee County Elections site, is Nov. 5, 2024.