Finding revenue sources to keep an upcoming road project on Fort Myers Beach in a sequential segmented fashion is becoming a daunting task for County officials.
Last week, Lee County Department of Transportation Director David Loveland pitched various plans for the County Commissioners to consider regarding three priority road projects, including Estero Boulevard. Homestead Road in Lehigh and Alico Road are the others.
Funding ideas included raising property taxes by way of a dedicated millage, using road impact fees, increasing sales taxes or implementing an infrastructure sales tax. Though no action was taken at the Management and Planning meeting, County officials discussed the options as another step forward in the process. Lee DOT staff recommendations involve appropriating a dedicated millage for the Estero Boulevard reconstruction and deciding whether to begin a process to move forward on an infrastructure sales tax referendum for 2014.
This part of Estero Boulevard, stretching from Lani Kai Resort to Donora Boulevard, could be under construction within the next year.
When reached by phone, Commissioner Larry Kiker offered his business approach and choice of the infrastructure sales tax.
"I am inclined to say that is the one out of all of the options that we need to investigate," he said. "Instead of increasing property tax, we can do a one penny sales tax that will pay for all of the three projects in two years. That way, the people that visit here will pay their fair share too. The premise behind it is that it is project-specific and time-limited."
While the first mile of the Beach roadway's six-mile reconstruction project is said to be funded using local option gas tax dollars, County records show funding design and construction phases for Segment 2 and 3 would cost $15,500,000 for the five-year Capital Improvement Plan. The remaining three miles would be done in years six through 10.
In his report, Loveland said that his staff will be "discussing a preferred phasing schedule with Fort Myers Beach staff in the near future, to best coincide with their planned water line replacement plans." The assumption is each construction phase will be spaced every two years "to allow sufficient time to fully complete the prior construction phase and to schedule a design phase in between construction phases."
Segment 1, estimated to be from Lani Kai to Donora Boulevard, is slated for construction in 2013-14. If things go as planned and funds are available, Segment 2 construction would happen in 2015-16 and Segment 3 in 2017-18.
Arguments have been raised as to which of the projects should receive more emphasis.
"From my perspective, Estero Boulevard is shovel-ready," said Kiker. "My goal is to keep the project going. The mobility fees of pulling all the equipment out and starting all over again is huge."
During the management and planning meeting, Kiker restated that County has committed to the Beach road and needs to work in unison with Beach officials due to their underground water utility infrastructure placement. Beach officials have committed $18 million to that project. He noted the Beach road project was first estimated at $60 million overall then was lowered to $42 million.
Commissioner Frank Mann stated he would like to place necessary funds towards two of the three road projects.
"Frankly, I would like to put the money where we have the people now - the Beach and Lehigh- rather than an undeveloped part of Lee County. With all the excitement down there and the potential growth (on Alico Road), we're not helping the people, the public and the drivers like we would be at Lehigh and at the Beach," he said. "We now have a 50-percent increase in capacity on I-75 over what we had six years ago."
County officials will be involved in budget talks soon and the discussion about road project funding will continue.
"The County has not been financially performing well over the past five years," said Kiker. "But, we are now in the position where we can manage our future better. We will be going into a budgeting process and just about anything can happen there."