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Optimism at the polls

November 14, 2018
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Southwest Floridians are notably frugal when it comes to taxes.

That's not a bad thing.

Whether one is retired and living on Social Security, a pension and/or investments, or whether one pays the bills by bringing home a paycheck, it's money that's been hard-earned and people are entitled to watch - and have a say - where it goes, how it is spent.

Last Tuesday, that is exactly what voters did, not only here in Lee County but in neighboring Charlotte and Collier counties as well.

Their message?

A majority are willing to pay more for the things they believe our community needs.

In Cape Coral, voters opted to tax themselves for the next 15 years to pay for a citywide $60 million parks and recreation master plan.

Voter approval, which came in at 53.58 percent, means that Cape property owners will pay a bit more in property taxes to redeem General Obligation bonds to be issued by the city. Those bonds will provide the funds for a capital plan that calls for seven new neighborhood parks, one new environmental park, the development of three community parks and improvements at at least 19 existing parks.

Voters countywide, meanwhile, agreed Tuesday to pay an additional half penny in sales tax to fund school infrastructure, including new schools, campus and technology upgrades, and safety hardening.

The additional half-penny, which brings Lee County's sales tax to 6.5 percent, will generate an estimated $59 million per year for the next 10 years.

Approved by 51.51 percent of the voters, the surtax will go into effect on Jan. 1.

Voters to the north and south of us approved additional taxes on Tuesday as well.

In Charlotte County, 56 percent of voters approved a 1 mill special option property tax for schools.

It's estimated the additional tax, which equates to $1 for every $1,000 of taxable property valuation, will add an additional $17 million per year to the district's operations budget for the next four years. It will fund additional classroom programs and instructional support, increase teacher compensation, and enhance campus safety.

In Collier, voters approved an additional full penny sales tax, bringing its sales tax levy up to 7 percent.

The additional tax, to be shared with the county's municipalities, will bring in $490 million over the next seven years. With its portion, the county has multiple initiatives planned including road and transportation projects as well as two new facilties, one for behavioral health, the other technical training and education.

Meanwhile, back in March, voters in Sarasota and Manatee counties extended or approved property tax initiatives for schools.

Sarasota County voters, by a record 79 percent, extended their 1 mill tax option, in effect since 2002, for another four years. The tax brings in about $55 million per year and funds, primarily, enhanced classroom programs.

Manatee voters, by about 51 percent of the vote, added 1 mill to their tax burden for the next four years. The additional $33 million per year will, among other things, boost the salaries of classroom teachers.

Southwest Florida taxpayers, as parsimonious as we may be, have shown we are willing to invest for tangibles, needs we can see.

Taken collectively, though, these votes are more than endorsements of the respective projects.

These votes reflect optimism, stong optimism for the regional economy.

And optimism, strong optimism, for the governments that asked for the funds.

Voter - and taxpayer - optimism.

It's not a bad place to be.

-Observer editorial



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