County commissioners keeping eye on projects, taxes
This year has been unlike any before it. Each of us has had to deal with unbelievable challenges, and as a nation, we have faced uncertainty about the future. One thing Lee County residents can be certain about is that their local government will provide them with a balanced budget and will keep their taxes low.
During the past several months, we have seen headlines reporting about multiple cities and states facing multi-billion dollar budget deficits. However, here at home your Board of County Commissioners has remained steadfast in producing a budget that provides financial stability while maintaining a first-class level of service and keeping our major projects on track.
When commissioners began working on the budget for next year, we focused on three core areas; maintaining the level of service our residents expect from the county, moving forward on our capital projects and keeping any financial impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic to a minimum. The county not only accomplished each of those goals, but also was able to do it while paying down debt.
The countywide general fund budget pays for core services regardless of whether you live inside a city. It provides for things such as the sheriff’s office, ambulance service and all of the local constitutional offices. Next year, commissioners will use a surplus in our general fund to keep essential projects on track like converting all of the Lee County Sheriff’s and EMS radios from analog to digital to provide our first responders with the latest technology to help keep our citizens safe.
While many of us have been preoccupied, the U.S. Census has been underway; when it concludes it should confirm what we see every day on our roads — that Lee County is growing. To make sure we have the necessary infrastructure to deal with this growth, commissioners have set aside $424 million on our Tier 1 road projects during the next 10 years. These projects include the Three Oaks Parkway Extension, Big Carlos Pass Bridge replacement and the widening of Corkscrew Road.
All of this is not to say that our budget wasn’t impacted from COVID-19. It was, to the tune of $25 million dollars across many different funding sources. However, through the leadership of both our federal elected officials (through CARES Act funding) and your county commissioners, we were able to absorb this impact and adjust our operations to minimize the effect it would have on our citizens.
While drafting our budget we also wanted to look toward the future. Part of the job of elected officials is to ensure that we are protecting taxpayer dollars and investing them wisely. To that end, commissioners established a sinking fund setting aside $2.5 million a year for the next four years to help pay down debt. Commissioners also created a $6 million revenue stabilization account and will use this money as a way to prevent tax increases should Covid-19 continue to impact our finances.
Our citizens have faced adversity before, Hurricane Irma, the Great Recession, the BP Oil Spill, blue-green algae and red tide, and now COVID-19. Each time, our county has rallied and has continued to grow its economy and remain a destination of choice for businesses and visitors. I am confident that we will do so again, and I promise that the steady leadership you have come to expect from your local elected officials also will continue.
Brian Hamman is chairman of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners.