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Lee County budget includes funds for safety projects

By Staff | Sep 26, 2018

The Lee County Board of County Commissioners approved its final budget last week, which includes $10 million in safety projects.

The proposed countywide millage, which was passed at the Board of County Commissioner’s Final Budget Hearing last Tuesday, was set at 4.0506 mills per thousand taxable value, which is compared to the roll back rate of 3.9071 mills per thousand of taxable value. There was a 3.67 percent increase from the roll back of the proposed millage.

The Unincorporated Area MSTU millage was set at .8398 mills per thousand taxable value, compared to the roll back rate of .8036 mills. The proposed millage is a 4.50 percent increase from the roll back rate.

The Municipal Services Taxing/Benefit Units, which allows communities to tax themselves to pay for added services, such as street lights, dredging, road paving and landscaping, was also set at the budget hearing.

The Cape Coral Solids Waste MSTU has a proposed millage rate of 0.1523 mills; Lehigh Acres Light MSTU has a proposed millage rate of 0.7460 and North Fort Myers Light MTSU has a proposed millage rate of 0.1589.

“At the height of the real estate boom, the tax base in Lee County was $96.5 billion with a 4.1506 tax rate,” Assistant County Manager and Chief Financial Officer Pete Winton said. “That dropped 45 percent during the Great Recession to $52.9 billion in Lee County.”

He said in subsequent years large deficits began.

“In fiscal year ’13-14 this board finally balanced those deficits and came up with a Sustainable Reserved Policy,”” Winton said. “The tax base has recovered in fiscal year ’18-19, but only 80 percent to about $78.6 billion. The board lowered the tax rate to 4.1506 two years ago. We are operating with a lower countywide tax rate with 190 fewer employees than we had in fiscal year ’07-08 and the population has increased since that time by 100,000 residents.”

Public Safety projects has a total of $10 million of excess reserves budgeted, which includes $8 million for the conversion of the county’s emergency radio network from analog to digital, Winton said. The budget also includes $2 million to design an expansion of the Public Safety campus on Ortiz Avenue. This will expand the Emergency Opera-tions Center and consolidate Emergency Management, EMS and dispatch operations to one location.

A total of $2.8 million will be taken out of the Unincor-porated MSTU fund for School Resource Officers in unincorporated areas, which was a mandate by the Legislature and the School Safety Act.

The county also approved an additional $9 million of excess reserves for environmental efforts, including $3.5 for Conservation 20/20 fund replenishment, $3 million for flood remediation and $2.5 million for TMDL projects. In all, Natural Resources projects over the next two years are funded at $11.4 million, Winton said.

The Lee County Library millage was set at .4956 mills per thousand taxable value, compared to the roll back rate of .5733 mills per thousand of taxable value. There was a 13.55 percent decrease from the roll back rate of the proposed millage.

Winton said there is a 10th of a mill decrease with the library tax rate, which impacts all incorporated and unincorporated areas, except for Sanibel and the Town of Fort Myers Beach, which have their own libraries.

Children Services was also among the items discussed at the final hearing last week. According to Winton, an additional investment of $1.2 million was included for Children’s Services.

The Oct. 2 Board of County Commissioners workshop has been dedicated for outlining staff’s Children’s Services recommendation, as well as final policy direction from the board.

According to the board’s agenda, increasing funding to The Early Learning Coalition by $270,000 will help in many ways. It will allow the coalition to draw down an additional $16 million in federal funding, allowing them to remove 325 children off the current wait-list.