Guest Commentary: Budget paves the way for a positive Lee County
I would like to congratulate the Lee County taxpayers and business owners for living in the best county in the State of Florida! When I was first elected in 2012, Lee County was faced with a $28 million deficit budget. Much like the challenges a business faces, the Board of County Commissioners had to make the tough decisions. We had to lay off employees, cut services, reduce hours of the public libraries, and use funds from the precious Conservation 20/20 program in order to balance the budget. At both Public Budget Hearings, Sept. 4, 2013 and Sept. 18, 2013, hundreds of citizens gathered in Commission Chambers to voice their concerns and dismay about the Budget cuts. We heard their pleas, but knew it was the necessary consequence in pursuance of getting our finances back in order. As a result, we had a balanced budget without raising Lee County taxes.
I am proud to report that on Sept. 15, 2015, we passed a $1.94 billion budget, all the while keeping the millage rate at 4.15 and without raising your taxes. With this passed budget, we are able to provide for 35 new jobs with the Sheriff’s Office and 12 new positions with Emergency Medical Services (EMS). We heard the concerns asking for more “boots on the ground” from the Sheriff’s Office and the residents, particularly in Lehigh Acres community where crime continues to rise. We increased the Conservation Land maintenance, funding for LeeTran, tourism, and infrastructure, and are scheduled to build two new public libraries. Speaking of infrastructure, you may recall the Board’s decision back in March 2013 to lower the collection rate of Impact Fees to 20 percent in three of the categories and keep Fire and EMS at 100 percent collection rate. This rate has made the funding of NEW infrastructure possible along with affording our families the opportunity to build a home in unincorporated Lee County at a reasonable cost. I look forward to having future discussions with my fellow Board members, particularly regarding allocating funds from the BP Oil Spill settlement for the county’s tourism and environmental needs.
I want to acknowledge our county staff and management for all the hard work they put into this Budget before bringing it forward for a vote. The budget process can be grueling and extensive, and because of staff’s foresight and tireless efforts, we continue to be in a positive place. The times have changed for Lee County government and I believe we have a great team working for your best interests. I look forward to continuing on this path towards a successful economic environment and enriched quality of life for our residents and visitors.
Lee County is in good hands!
-Cecil Pendergrass, Lee County Board of County Commissioners, District 2