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Lee County budget includes NFM projects

September 11, 2019
By CHUCK BALLARO (news@breezenewspapers.com) , North Fort Myers Neighbor

The Lee County budget for 2020 will be ratified later this month by the Board of County Commissioners, and numerous North Fort Myers projects will be part of the debate.

County Commissioner Brian Hamman said the budget will be balanced while keeping the millage rate the same and holding the line on increased spending at 3 percent.

North Fort Myers pays into the unincorporated municipal services taxing unit, which provides city-like services, and it has run a deficit the last few years as it never really recovered from the recession a decade ago.

Hamman said they were able to control spending and restructure the fund and balance it without increasing taxes.

"Our staff talked to us about raising the tax rate and we manages to fix it. That was a real win for North Fort Myers and a greater part of the county," Hamman said. "We were intentionally using the fund's surplus the past several years and when Estero left five years ago, it took more money out of that fund."

North Fort Myers can look forward to the continuation of the incentive fund, which was created last year to provide $2 million in grants for businesses which made specific improvements.

Only Merchants Crossing has used the fund so far and is expected to apply for another grant to finish the second phase of its project, Hamman said.

Hamman added he would like the owners of the Hancock Bridge Square Shopping Plaza to use the incentive fund to renovate the facility.

"I had a conversation with the owner and it went great. He would like to switch gears and do a mixed-use development similar to what's legal in the mixed-use overlay," Hamman said. "I think he's looking for investors to help him build the project. For now, we're working with code enforcement to see that he's maintaining the facility better."

Another project will be the widening of Littleton Road to three lanes and its alignment to Kismet Parkway in Cape Coral.

The county also is going to attempt to address a major problem in North Fort Myers: the many septic tanks along the river.

"We're trying to understand the impact of that to our local water quality. We spent another $90,000 on Phase 2 of the study to look at what sources are polluting the river from that area," Hamman said.

Last year saw North Fort Myers get a new community pool at a cost of $2 million and, of course, the new library which opened last month, for around $14 million.

As far as the future goes, it's anyone's guess. Among the wants that are highest on the wish list are softball fields so local teams don't have to go to Cape Coral or Punta Gorda to play their games.

Hamman said those aren't in this year's budget and don't appear to be coming anytime soon.

"Big projects like that need to be worked into the five-year capital plan and they have to be designed and permitted and constructed. That is not a short-term project or in the budget, but it's a conversation we will continue," Hamman said.

The general fund budget increase is 3.38 percent for a total of $589.3 million. The total budget will be $2.078 billion. As tendered, the millage for the general fund will remain at $4.0506 for every $1,000 of property value.

Lee County held its first budget hearing last Monday and will hold its second and final one on Sept. 17 at 5:05 p.m. in Commission Chambers, 2010 Main St., Fort Myers.



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