LEE COUNTY, Fla. - Lee County is moving closer to balancing its budget for the coming year, but it's a painful and controversial process.
Commissioners learned Tuesday that Sheriff Mike Scott is cutting another 2.7 million dollars from his budget. That's on top of about 9 million in cuts the past couple of years. The sheriff is cutting some in information technology and use of vehicles - not in deputies on the street. Commissioners applauded him for the extra cuts.
Later in a workshop, they learned the county is raiding a fund for retirement benefits for ex-employees. Lee is taking 57 million from that fund, and also using tens of millions in reserve funds to balance the budget. That set off one commissioner.
"We are acting like the Congress, leaving future generations hurting for money," said Frank Mann. "That is not right, and on the reserves, we are using up our seed corn, as my farmer friends would say. Once you use all your seed corn, you are out of business! We are just digging a deeper pit for ourselves!"
Commission Chair Tammy Hall predicted painful cuts next summer, when the shortfall could be 51-million dollars. "We are going to have to cut programs and services, unless we hike the tax rate. There will be no other choice," said Hall.
Commissioners seem set on leaving the tax rate where it is for the coming year. They hold a public hearing on the budget Wednesday afternoon.