LEE COUNTY, Fla. - Lee Commissioners met for hours on Tuesday afternoon, hearing about cuts made across many county programs and agencies. In the end, they did not have a solid budget plan in place, and agreed to meet again next week to try to finalize a plan to wipe out a 70-million dollar shortfall.
At the end, Commissioner John Manning offered a possible compromise among a variety of options: that the county leave the tax rate where it is now, $3.65 for every $1000 of property value, and use 20 to 25 million in reserve funds to balance the budget. But there is no guarantee he can get 3 of 5 votes for that plan.
Earlier, commissioners heard from Sheriff Mike Scott and Lee Clerk of Courts Charlie Green, among others. Scott said his agency has cut 9-million dollars in 2 years, and cannot cut any more. "We've cut the budget to 153 million and that is as deep as we can go. I will not put people on furlough, you can't do that in a law enforcement agency, and I will not charge deputies more for their health insurance for family members. Those benefits are generous and they make up for a relatively low salary for our people here in Lee," said Scott.
Green suggested commissioners could balance the budget by using reserves, and money for the land preservation program, Conservation 2020. "That program gets about 27 million a year in taxes, and you could re-direct that money from land purchases to the general fund," he told commissioners. In addition, Green urged the board to use other reserve funds to create local jobs and put people to work. "It is wrenching to see so many people hurting," said Green. "We could create jobs putting in sidewalks and all kinds of public works projects. Those dollars we pay the people would ripple and spread 4 times over through our local economy."
Commissioners meet again Sept. 7 to try to finalize a budget. The first public hearing on a budget is the next day, Sept. 8. The county must balance its budget by Sept. 30 for the coming year.