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Lean budget means fewer new projects expected for county

By Staff | Aug 12, 2009

Lee County is looking at just under $93 million in capital improvement projects for the 2009-10 fiscal year, a number that is lower than any seen this decade.
The CIP budget shrunk compared to the $123 million for this fiscal year, and fell dramatically compared to the 2007-08 fiscal year when it sat at just over $243 million.
Though roughly $242 million in current major projects will carry over, there will be little in the way of new projects.
With major revenue sources for capital improvement projects down, Lee County commissioners have chosen not to raise the millage rate for the next fiscal year.
Tentatively set at $5.34 for every $1,000 of taxable value, commissioners are still facing a budget shortfall close to $75 million.
Though none of the numbers are final, and will not be until the board votes to adopt the budget in September, Chairman Ray Judah is pleased the millage will stay the same.
“I’m happy we’re in a position that we don’t have to raise the millage, like some of the municipalities in Lee County, or in Florida, really,” he said.
The major maintenance budget for the county is also looking slim. This year’s figure of $54 million will probably be reduced almost half, coming in at just over $25 million for the next fiscal year.
That means a major reduction of services in all county offices. Some of those changes could include a reduction of landscaping on Lee roadways, as well as major repairs and daily maintenance at county facilities.
Commissioner Tammy Hall said the board wants to be “realistic” when it comes to maintenance, even though the budget is presenting challenges.
“I don’t want deferred maintenance to become major maintenance,” she said. “I definitely don’t want to see things we defer become major budget issues in a few years.”
Commissioners also broached the subject of the county’s general reserve fund, which currently sits at $270 million.
Judah asked staff to look into the possibility of purchasing more land around the Lee County Sports Complex — spring training home of the Minnesota Twins — by using some of the reserves.
He thinks now is the time to buy given the economy.
“Is it worth it to have one more bite at the apple with these depressed prices?” Judah asked.