By TIFFANY REPECKI
Already nicknamed the "community commissioner," District 2 Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass has a laundry list of priorities for his first term in office.
"The main thing about my election was the voice of the people," he said Thursday. "They wanted a change in Lee County government."
With a 5-0 vote, Pendergrass also will serve as chairman of the board.
"It was a vote of confidence, I believe, from my peers," he said.
Pendergrass cited cutting the budget, increasing tax relief for locals, creating a business-friendly environment and building a consensus between the county and local municipalities as some of his top priorities.
"We have to reduce our expenditures," he said. "Stop spending the reserve money."
On the new board's first day in office, it dealt with the MEDSTAR issue by shutting down the county program in lieu of a public-private partnership.
"That saves us $2 million a year," Pendergrass said.
The board also changed the IT - information technology - computer software storage between the Lee County Board of County Commissioners and Lee County Clerk's Office, saving an estimated $862,000 annually.
"That saves us 62 percent in the first year," he said.
To further decrease the budget, Pendergrass wants to work with the city manager to leave vacated county positions vacant, rather than fill them.
As for providing some tax relief to citizens, he cited two proposals.
"That's something I'll be presenting to Lee County residents," Pendergrass said of the coming months. "People are just trying to survive right now."
On one, he wants to propose that the county adopt the language of a new state amendment that gives people over the age of 65, who own a property valued at $250,000 or more, an additional $25,000 Homestead exemption.
Pendergrass noted that there are criteria and it is not for everyone.
"But, it's tax relief for somebody," he said.
Pendergrass declined to go into the specifics of his second proposal Thursday, but said it would help local businesses and homeowners.
"It's something I was supporting before the election," he said.
In creating a more business-friendly environment, Pendergrass wants to focus on the process of obtaining permits and how to make it easier.
"Just working with the local business owners, developers, and working with county staff to streamline the permitting process," he said.
As soon as Monday, the board will tackle impact fees.
"That's another issue where we can help reduce taxes and the burden on new homeowners trying to build property here in Lee County," Pendergrass said.
Asked about how he plans to bring Lee County and its municipalities into agreement on issues, he noted that communication is key. Pendergrass said he has been and will continue to meet with them to listen and share ideas.
"We need them and they need us," he said. "It's to try to bridge that gap to work together well."
Pendergrass noted that Cape Coral is one of the largest local cities.
"I want to build and work with the city of Cape Coral on a lot of issues and help them as they grow," he said.
But, Pendergrass also wants to hear from the public.
"I've been working day and night for this job since I've been elected, and I'm going to continue those efforts," he said, adding that he plans to host a town hall meeting in the Cape in February.
"The residents really really love having someone there they can speak to," Pendergrass said.