Congratulations to those who won a spot on the November ballot or won a seat outright in Tuesday’s primary election. Now we can all catch our breath before the crush of the November election begins.
With only No Party Affiliation (NPA) and write-in challengers to face on the November ballot, many primary winners have effectively won their seats already and just need to go through the motions on November 8. Lee County has never had a write in or NPA win an election. Wonder what would happen if everyone dissatisfied with a system that allows a write in to close a primary, actually voted for that write in…
With the Lee County School Board switching to a single member district hybrid board, some may have been surprised to see only District 3 plus the at-large seats #6 and #7 on their ballot. Voters approved the switch in 2014, creating a School Board that will have five members elected by each of five district voters, plus two at large members.
The Lee County Board of County Commissioners is still an at-large board, meaning that all voters in Lee County elect all five commissioners, though each commissioner must live in the district they are representing. There have been periodic calls for the BoCC to change to a hybrid board as the school board has done or to a full single-member district board where only voters in District 3 would elect the District 3 Commissioner. So far, that concept has not gained much traction.
Hopefully the hybrid board system used by the School Board will be so successful that the voters of Lee County will push for change for the Board of County Commissioners.
The month of September may mean back to school or the start of football season (Go Cats!) for many but for the Sand Paper staff, it means BUDGET SEASON. Each local taxing district from the Lee County Commission to the Fort Myers Beach Mosquito Control District must hold two Public Hearings on their proposed budget for fiscal year 2016-2017.
Districts will present their budget at the first Public Hearing and take public comment. Most taxing districts have their proposed budgets posted online prior to that hearing. The date, time and location for the first hearing is on the Truth in Millage (TRIM) notice that all homeowners have received. If you missed yours or just want to see what your neighbors’ tax bill may be, it’s public information at leepa.org.
In early summer, taxing districts had to pick a TRIM tax rate – a rate that becomes the maximum for the next year’s budget. They can lower that rate at the public hearings, but they can’t raise it above the TRIM rate. Some strategically set it high knowing that they’ll lower it. Others just aren’t sure of their expenses in June and put some padding in the TRIM rate. Some have their financials nailed down early and the TRIM rate will likely be their final rate.
Looking at the TRIM rates this year, the highest, by far, is school taxes; combined local and state school taxes are 6.9890 or $6.989 per $1,000 of taxable value. Lee County is at 4.0506, followed by the Fort Myers Beach Fire District at 2.6500.
Every other TRIM rate is under $1 per $1,000 of taxable value, including the Town of Fort Myers Beach at a TRIM rate of 0.900. The Beach Library is at 0.3499. The combined rates for the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) are at 0.3307. Other water related taxes – West Coast Inland Navigation and Lee County Hyacinth Control total 0.0657. Wrapping up the list is the Fort Myers Beach Mosquito Control District at 0.0966.
The taxable value of property went up this year. While this is often an opportunity to lower tax rates, few districts do and some have good reasons. Some have been operating very lean and need to play catch up on some capital equipment or have neglected programs that need a boost.
Of all the districts mentioned above, only SFWMD and the FMB Mosquito Control Board have kept taxes at the roll back rate – the rate that will bring in the same number of dollars as last year. They are the only districts that have not raised taxes.
Don’t let public officials try to tell you that keeping the tax rate the same as last year is the same as not raising your taxes. It’s not. If the rate is higher than the roll back rate, it’s a tax increase.
We don’t have a blanket objection to raising taxes, but we do think officials should be honest about it and be able to explain their reasons. While everyone wants low taxes, they also want reliable service from their local government. Reliable service costs money. Remember that as you listen to the budget explanations at hearings.
We urge residents to attend and ask thoughtful questions and listen to the answers.