Lee County Commission passes balanced budget
The headlines out of Washington, D.C., are hard to miss. Congress is talking about impeachment, investigations, continuing resolutions and perpetually campaigning. But here at home your local government is quietly working to serve you and to protect your quality of life day in and day out.
In September, your Lee County Commissioners did something that Washington hasn’t done since 2001. We passed a balanced budget. In fact, we have passed a balanced budget every year since I arrived in 2013. Here’s what that means to you: commissioners are being good stewards of your money, we are keeping your taxes low and we are prepared to handle disasters.
Today’s commissioners are doing more with less than our predecessors. Lee County’s tax base still has not fully recovered from the housing crisis and “Great Recession.” Lower property values mean fewer property tax dollars are collected. The good news is that our local Property Appraiser is predicting in 2020 – 13 years after our peak – we will finally recover.
The countywide general fund budget pays for core services whether you live inside a city or not. It provides for things like the sheriff’s office, ambulance service and all of the local constitutional offices. Next year, commissioners will use the surplus in our general fund to help catch up on projects that were put off during the recession. Those projects include things like an upgrade to the county’s emergency radio network and major maintenance on the sheriff’s helicopter.
Commissioners will add another $8 million to the Conservation 20/20 land acquisition fund. Preserving environmentally sensitive property has been one of our best tools in the fight to protect our water quality. Since 2013, the current board of commissioners has protected more than 4,900 acres from development by making Conservation 20/20 purchases and we have also protected more than 5,700 acres at no cost to the taxpayers through a partnership with land owners to create the Environmental Enhancement and Preservation Communities Overlay. The estimated savings to the taxpayers is $69 million versus the cost to purchase those lands.
Lee County is strong and it’s an attractive place for people to live, work, raise a family and retire. In fact, by the year 2040, experts estimate 1 million people will call our community their full time home. To handle that population, we will need more roads. Gas taxes are our primary funding source for building roads. Some major projects that we are moving forward this year include: extending Three Oaks Parkway, widening Ortiz between MLK Boulevard and Colonial, and designing a wider Corkscrew Road.
As we grow, balance will be the key word to keep in mind when building future budgets. We need to continue to balance our budgets. We also need to continue to balance our growing economy and population with protection for the environment that makes this such a special place to live.
Brian Hamman is acting chairman of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners.