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Hamman: Good news on taxes, water quality
September 25, 2019

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Business leaders had a lot of questions to ask County Commissioner Brian Hamman as he spoke last week at the monthly North Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce Business Leaders Luncheon at the Smoke N Pit.

Much of what he talked about regarded the Lee County budget, which was passed last week. But he also talked about subjects such as code enforcement, water quality and future development in the area.

Code enforcement was a particularly important topic, especially when you consider there has been a problem with trucks parking alongside Old 41. Hamman said some businesses don't seem to care as they consider the fines the cost of doing business.

Regarding the budget, Hamman said the county balanced its budget, kept the tax rate the same and was able to put $8 million into the Conservation 20/20 program, which will be used to buy environmentally sensitive land.

For people living in North Fort Myers, who live in the Unincorporated Municipal Service Taxing District, they had a massive reserve built up of hundreds of millions of dollars. When the recession hit, the fund was used for deficit spending as people's property values plummeted.

The reserve has been spent down for years until this year, when that fund needed to be balanced, so it was restructured by using the franchise fees from the electric providers to balance the MSTU.

"Even though property values haven't gotten back to what they were during the boom, the budgets are all balanced and we were able to do it without raising taxes," Hamman said.

As far as water quality, Haman said the county is trying to understand the impact septic systems along the river have on water quality. Aside from that, Hamman said water quality has been great because of the lack of releases from Lake Okeechobee because of the dryer summer we've had.

"The lake is being managed differently than in the past, giving us more water in the dry season when we want it for the estuary and cut back for the wet season," Hamman said. "They lowered the lake level and left more room for water in the summer."

Also discussed was the county's $2 million economic incentive plan, which could be used for further improvements to Merchants Crossing and possibly for Hancock Bridge Square, the owner of which has spoken with Hamman.

The county has also authorized the county to seek a public/private partnership at the land at Waterway Estates. The idea is to lease the land with a developer to build a restaurant and a marina.

Something Hamman discussed was how many people, upon hearing of a new development in their neighborhood, will come to meetings looking to quash the proposals.

He said it's tough to say no to those who have voted for him, but if the evidence supports the passage of a development, they have to approve it, while making the appropriate zoning changes.

"Unless they have a plan that is bad for the health, safety and well-being of Lee County, they have the right to get the property permitted," Hamman said. If the commission were to do otherwise and reject it, they would be sued and they would lose.

Hamman also discussed future infrastructure needs for the area as Lee County approaches 1 million people in the next 20 years.

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