Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker suggested there may be a tax reduction for County residents this coming fiscal year. He discussed budgetary issues and answered questions about other topics at the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Charley's Boat House Grill last Thursday.
The current Board of County Commissioners chairman is close to reaching his second year serving Lee County. He is proud that County government will not be dipping into reserves for a second straight year.
"When I first got on the board, we had been running a deficit to the tune of about $30 to $40 million a year. We were losing every year for the last six years prior. There was almost $1 billion in our savings account that got used up during the six years," he said. "This last year we were able to balance the budget without going into reserves."
Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker stands between Beach Chamber chairman John Gavin and president Bud Nocera. Kiker was the guest speaker at a recent chamber luncheon at Charley's Boat House Grill and the FMB Chamber Board announced a membership drive called Net 50, where four teams will compete to see who will bring in the most new members in a one month span. The non-profit group had 407 members prior to the drive.
While cuts are being made to balance the budget, Kiker mentioned the Lee County Sheriff's Office will receive roughly $8 million to provide some of their services for the safety of the municipalities.
"We have done what I call 'Policy Decision Making 101'," he said. "The Board started working on the budget 2-1/2 months ago. We have already identified the policy initiatives that we need to decide on so that we could prepare this budget coming up."
Impact fees and Conservation 20/20 program aspects have been cut to improve budgetary numbers. The change can be seen as a switch in policy decision responsibility to set vision and strategy.
"What happened was the Board actually was not making policy decisions, so it kind of left the staff to do that," Kiker said. "That's the role that the Board should be playing. In government, you don't get involved in operations."
Kiker, the 2006 FMB Chamber Citizen of the Year, stated the current final millage that was established last fall stands at 4.15 mils. The tentative millage rate was approved at 4.15 mils also. That number cannot go any higher, but with more adjustments may go lower to cause a tax reduction.
"This year, as we are preparing our budget, I think we might even be looking at a tax reduction in mil rate this year," said the former Beach mayor. "That's a huge jump."
Kiker was asked about water quality, Estero Boulevard, Seafarer's property intentions and Big Carlos Pass.
On water quality: "President Obama just signed off on WRRDA (Water Resources Reform and Development Act) last month and we got $1.2 billion. Now it's in appropriations. It'll help clean up Lake O, (add funds to) C-43 and C-44 (reservoirs). (On the state level), we were able to get $18 million for local projects, like redoing the Hoover Dam. (On the county level), we right now have $100 million sitting in a bank account ready to buy more property (improved water flow.)"
On Estero Boulevard: "(Restoration of) Estero Boulevard is going to start this coming year. In the last seven years, we have funded zero infrastructure. This year we funded $70 million worth of infrastructure, and $50 million of it is for the Estero Boulevard program. It's going to be a tough ride. It's going to be a 10-year project on a good day. I think the first mile will be from Crescent (Street) to Red Coconut (RV Park). That's going to be the hardest part. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be coming into your community to improve your traffic situation, improve our roads and hopefully improve your quality of life. But you're going to have to live through it with us. But it'll be worth it."
On Seafarer's: "I don't know of anything that is going on in Seafarer's. There was a problem that got fixed last year. Nothing could be done on that property. It was bought by tourist development money, and the property could not be improved. So, we actually switched the title to Lee County and now we can do something with it. By and large, we have to wait for a business to come in there and that might very well dictate what is going to happens."
On Big Carlos Pass: "The hopes are that in the next eight months, after we get through permitting, we will be able to dig a hole 12 feet deep straight out. That would be a great accomplishment. Not only does it help navigation, it also helps filtrate the bay and places like that."