Wednesday, August 8, 2012

It's Lee County budget decision time--Let commissioners hear from YOU!

This time every year, local governments put the finishing touches on their budgets for the upcoming year, and Florida statute requires that the public be given an opportunity to comment prior to decisions by our elected officials.  Here's the schedule for the Lee Board of County Commissioners , your opportunities to participate, and what's at stake for the BikeWalkLee network.

BoCC August budget workshops:
The Board has scheduled two workshops for August--August 21st and August 28th (likely to be scheduled for 1-3 p.m.) to hear from staff and to discuss the county's proposed budget.  Note that the 2nd workshop (8/28) may not occur.  The workshop format does not allow for public comment, but the public can attend the meetings (in BoCC Chambers) or watch on Channel 97 or on the County's website.  You can also e-mail your concerns to Commissioners prior to the workshop so they can have the benefit of your input when they question staff about the pending budget proposals.

BoCC September budget public hearings:
Two BoCC public hearings are scheduled--Sept. 5th and Sept. 19th.  Both hearings start at 5 p.m. in the BoCC Chambers.  This is your opportunity to tell the commissioners what you care about in the budget.  Each speaker has 3 minutes to speak.  All you have to do is fill out a blue card at the beginning of the meeting and wait for your name to be called.  If you can come to the Sept. 5th hearing, that's probably the best time to speak, since it gives commissioners more time to consider your input and explore questions with staff.  If you can't make the Sept. 5th hearing, not to worry--you'll have a 2nd opportunity on Sept. 19th.  Given the 3 minute time limit, your comments need to be focused and specific.  If you can't attend the hearings, you can always e-mail your comments to the commissioners. Click here for e-mail addresses of commissioners:

Issues of concern to BikeWalkLee:
BikeWalkLee prepared extensive comments to the Board in June on the proposed CIP budget, which includes all the county's planned transportation projects.  Two of our key recommendations are that the Alico Rd/Ben Hill widening project be delayed until a master plan is developed for the Research Diamond area; and that the1.3-mile Ortiz widening project in the Tice neighborhood (from Luckett to Palm Beach Blvd.) be changed to a "road diet" (2-lane divided with road improvements), making it a complete street and avoiding a costly and unnecessary road widening.  Read the memo for the complete set of recommendations. Click here to read the memo.  Click here for our previous blog post on our comments.  

County's Proposed Budget Documents:
To view the County staff's proposed budget and background materials, click here.

Here are two other items of interest from these documents:

·         The subsidy to LeeTran of $10.4 million is proposed to be held flat.  It's worth noting that in previous years, there have been proposals to reduce funding for LeeTran.  Commissioners need to hear from residents that funding for transit should not be reduced.  In fact, we need to be developing a way to expand transit to meet the long term needs of our community. Here's BikeWalkLee's 2010 letter to BoCC inopposition to proposed transit cuts.  

·         The June staff memo also highlights two important Lehigh Acres mixed use centers that include complete streets features, requested by the Lehigh community that the Board wants considered in the final budget deliberations.  These projects cost a total of $557 K, and are not currently in the budget.  This is your opportunity to ask the commissioners to change the proposed budget to include funding for these 2 projects.

Budgets are a statement of the community's priorities and it is important that our elected officials make decisions that reflect the community's values.   The budget needs to be developed in a rational and thoughtful way, with a focus on the long term consequences of today's budget decisions.  It is critical that these decisions reflect the quality of life investments that are vital to the sustainability and economic viability of our community. 

So, mark your calendars and plan to attend one of the public hearings on the budget in support of wise investments to make our community a more walkable/livable/sustainable place to live and work.

by Darla Letourneau

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