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Sales tax referendum slated for May

By Staff | Jan 25, 2018

Lee County voters will now be asked if they are willing to pay a little more in sales tax to fund capital projects for schools

The Lee County School Board voted 6-1 Tuesday night in favor of holding a special election for the District’s proposed half cent tax plan.

If the Lee County Board of County Commissioners agree, the special election will be held May 15 in advance of the Primary and General elections.

The vote did not come without opposition.

Numerous Lee County residents voiced their disapproval of not just the tax plan, but also the holding of a special election to vote on it.

“I’m against this regressive tax,” said Louis Navarra, a Cape Coral resident. “It hurts the elderly, it hurts the minorities and it hurts the hardworking Lee County citizens.”

The majority of the crowd’s response to the tax plan was negative, condemning the board for the way they feel it has irresponsibly handled tax dollars.

“I would be in favor of this half penny tax if you reduced my TRIM notice, because now you’re just kind of double dipping this one,” said Lisa Cohen of Cape Coral. “All this has done for me today is ask you for one thing; now I want to see an audit done because there’s obviously something else going on. You guys should be ashamed of yourselves, I’m ashamed of you.”

Cost is the primary reason Lee County residents are especially against holding a special election. The projected cost is $887,500 as opposed to about $50 to add it to the Primary or General Election ballot. Critics said it is a waste of money when there are two elections coming up later this year.

“While I support the right for my fellow Lee County residents to have a say in this matter, I do not support the use of nearly one million dollars on this special election,” said Ryan Kennedy, an eight-year resident of Lee County. “Many of our fellow Lee County residents are on a fixed income, including single parents, the elderly and college students. I urge the board to not use the nearly one million dollars on a special election, but rather use it on the things that will help each and every child in this county, and not to put our fellow residents into more of an economic hardship.”

Board member Melisa Giovannelli was the one board member who said she did not support the holding of a special election for this proposed tax plan.

Not all responses from the crowd were negative.

There were residents who expressed their support for this tax plan and the holding of a special election.

“As both a teacher and a parent of five children, three of which are in our school system today, I would like to advocate in favor of the half penny sales tax,” said Dave Crawford, a Lee County resident and teacher. “What I see now is a lack of funding from both the state and our impact fees. We need that money in order for us to continue the great education we provide to our children. If we continue to grow, where are all the students going to go?”

According to the district, 1,800 new students enroll in Lee County schools annually. This number has been used to highly emphasize the need for more money to accommodate this growth.

The tax plan proposed is estimated to bring in about $59 million annually to contribute to costs for capital improvement such as school buses, maintenance, technology equipment and fixtures.

According to Mary Fischer, school board member for District 1, adding a half penny sales tax would cost the average family about $50 to $58 more per year.

The school board members listened to all the people who came to the meeting and voiced their concerns and disapproval for their plan.

Board members stated their deepest concern is that there is a lot of misinformation circulating regarding the negative feedback about the tax plan.

“The fact of the matter is this board has been talking about this issue for five years,” Cathleen O’Daniel Morgan, chairman and school board member for District 7, said. “It is a little disheartening to hear some of the misinformation out there and the lack of information people have. We have a lot to do. If this board passes this tax recommendation, we know we have to educate you, and we will have transparency.”

Fischer took a similar view.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there, and it is on us to provide the simple facts,” Fischer said. “The facts are that education is key, and education is the economic driver in this community.”