Guest opinion: Always a top priority — serving this county and its citizens

I believe we live in the best county in the State of Florida….

Guest opinion: Always a top priority — serving this county and its citizens
Guest opinion: Always a top priority — serving this county and its citizens
Guest opinion: Always a top priority -- serving this county and its citizens 1

It remains an honor and privilege to serve as your chairman on the Lee Board of County Commissioners. As is done every year around this time, your Lee County government worked tirelessly to present a clear and concise budget for the Board’s consideration. I want to recognize our County Administration, department directors and staff on another successful budget year. I am excited to share that your county commission recently passed this Fiscal Year 2022/2023 budget, which provides more funding for services AND savings for you, the taxpayer!

I believe we live in the best county in the State of Florida and these last few years have only further confirmed this to be true! We stood strong and prevailed over the pandemic while dismissing outrageous policies and mandates that infringed on your personal freedoms and right to a quality of life. The whole nation and world witnessed how our great Gov. Ron DeSantis and local government responded to the epidemic, resulting in many fleeing their liberal, authoritarian states and finding refuge in our “freest” State of Florida. In order to address this continued growth and uphold your quality of life, the Lee Board of County Commissioners continues to make sound policy decisions that plan for the future.

The Lee County budget for Fiscal Year 2022-2023 was finalized and adopted this past Tuesday. This budget included a countywide millage (property) tax rate DECREASE from 3.86 to 3.76 mills. This happened after lowering the countywide tax rate from 4.05 to 3.86 mills last year and from 4.15 to 4.05 mills in 2017. Your countywide tax rate now is 3.76 compared to 5.34 in 2004. Please know we do not have control over the other taxing districts listed on your tax bill. I recommend you contact those separate agencies and urge them to follow the Lee County BoCC’s lead and implement fiscally conservative policies. In decreasing your tax rate, we have also provided for an increase in funding for services most beneficial to you!

Over the years we have maintained a stable reserve balance; through oil spills, water-quality issues, Hurricane Irma and the latest pandemic, we still kept our reserves in place. This year with our $2.6 billion budget we still had $135 million in undesignated General Fund reserves. We are using some of those reserves to fund needed projects within the county that will create a better and safer community for all!   

These projects will increase jobs, provide for safer and faster transportation, SROs for school safety, parks and recreation improvements, water quality projects, utilities and more. Major projects include the renovation of South County Regional Library, Lehigh Acres Community Park expansion, Alico Road and Three Oaks North connectors, $10 million for road resurfacing, and the Three Oaks Wastewater Treatment Plant expansion.

As a 25-year retired police officer, I know the main priority of government is to provide safety for all our residents! That is why again the BoCC made law enforcement, school SROs and EMS a priority in staffing, equipment and retention of staff.   

We have increased the Sheriff’s, EMS and Port Authority’s public safety budgets so those who protect our homes, businesses and serve our residents are paid a fair wage and have the necessary tools to combat crime and provide service to our community.  

Our RSW airport was named No. 1 in the country in recovery of flights in 2021, and our passenger numbers are still breaking records. The Board just approved a $375 million expansion of RSW that will serve our area needs for the next 25 years, with more gates, expansion of TSA check points, more concessions within the secured area, expanded parking and a newly completed $82 million state of art air control tower. This was all funded by FDOT, FAA and passenger fees.

All of these projects will provide service to ALL of our residents for years to come and to make your life better and safer.

As your Commission chairman, I want to again thank you for your support, and I look forward to continuing serving you for years to come! 

Cecil Pendergrass is chairman of the Board of Lee County Commissioners.

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