Thursday, August 7, 2014

Action Alert: Aug. 12th Lee Commission meeting exclusively for public input on draft 2015 budget

Your participation in the Aug. 12th BoCC budget workshop is important.  Below provides all the details about how to participate, along with the "why's" about what's at stake for the BikeWalkLee network.

What:  Lee Commission meeting exclusively for public input on draft 2015 budget
When: Tues. Aug. 12th, 9:30 a.m.
Where: Commission Chambers, 2120 Main Street, Fort Myers
On Tuesday, Aug. 12th at 9:30 a.m., the public will have an unusual opportunity to provide input on the outstanding budget issues prior to their finalizing its 2015 budget.  Our efforts, as an active participant in Lee Public Voice (LPV), have provided this opportunity. (See LPV's July 24th letter to BoCC on this issue.)  

The Board plans to make its final decisions at the budget workshop on August 19th,although there will still be two legally required public hearings on the budget on September 3rd and 17th.
We need your Action :  BikeWalkLee supporter organizations and interested citizens need to voice their opinion. You have two ways:
  • Best: attend the Aug. 12th meeting and speak on any or all of the three issues highlighted below- Transportation CIP/impact fees, transit funding, and funding for the Conservation 2020 program.
  • Next Best: email/call your commission members and urge them to address these concerns before the budget is finalized.
The three major budget issues of concern to BikeWalkLee:
Three of our four key priority areas--Integrated planning; quality of life, and transit--are impacted by the BoCC decisions on this year's budget, as outlined below.
1.  Impact Fees, the Transportation Budget in the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP):At the same time the Board adopts the $358 million general fund budget, it will adopt a 5-Year CIP budget of almost equal size...$331 million. Both budgets must be equally scrutinized and  based on the most accurate and up-to-date data available.

BikeWalkLee is concerned that the transportation plan is receiving little if any scrutiny by the Board and is essentially on "automatic pilot".  We have provided extensive comments on the draft transportation CIP, none of which have ever been considered. 

The figures being used this year are obsolete and inaccurate. They must be corrected.

The draft transportation CIP fails to accurately account for future impact fee revenues by not recognizing the Board’s direction that those fees are to return to 100% next March. This means many needed bike/ped/complete streets projects that have been recommended and prioritized by both the County's Internal Complete Streets Team and the County's Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC)are never making it onto the CIP project list due to the supposed lack of sufficient impact fee revenues.  Currently 5% of road impact fees are allocated for bike/ped projects.  Accurate impact fee revenue numbers could mean an additional $750,000/year available for these important projects.

The Board has explicitly stated that the impact fee revenues will return to the 100% rate on March 13, 2015. Nothing in the county's revenue projections reflect this policy assumption.  Therefore, the draft budget provides an easy opportunity for the Board to attempt to continue the impact fee reduction policy without any accountability. The 2-year, $40 M loss to County taxpayers doesn’t appear anywhere, allowing it impact fee reduction to appear as “free” of consequences.

BikeWalkLee and Lee Public Voice are requesting the Board to ensure that the transportation budget is corrected before the budget is adopted in September.
2.  Transit funding:  This year BikeWalkLee's transit priority has been for BoCC to restore last year's LeeTran service cuts (which reduced evening and weekend service), to secure funding for the LinC bus line connecting Lee and Collier Counties (needed to replace the expiring FDOT grant), and for no further transit cuts to be included in the FY 2014-15 budget.
Throughout the year, BikeWalkLee, in partnership with other supporter organizations (including Southwest Florida Council of the Blind, Center for Independent Living Gulf Coast, Healthy Lee Coalition, Audubon Society of SWFL, Responsible Growth Management Council, and Spikowski Planning Associates), demonstrated to the Board that the cuts were having negative impacts on the transit system overall and on the individual lives of our citizens who rely on transit to get to work and lead independent and productive lives. 
The County's draft budget includes an option for restoring the FY 13-14 cuts to transit, adding $358K to the "continuation" budget. No further transit cuts have been included in this budget and continuation of funding for LinC has now been secured from the various contributors (including LeeTran, Collier County, Lee MPO, and Bonita Springs).  To date, the Board has been receptive to restoring last year's transit cuts but no vote has been taken so this is still an outstanding issue for the Board to decide.  

BikeWalkLee supports the adoption of the county's draft budget transit proposal and thanks the Board for being responsive to community-wide requests to restore transit service.  The next step is for the county to explore ways to expand and improve its transit services in order to meet the long-term needs of our community. [*See links below for previous BWL letters on transit funding.]
3.  Conservation 2020: BikeWalkLee's vision includes innovative and integrated land use and transportation planning to enhance our county's livability.  As part of this focus on quality of life, we support preserving green space, which is the goal of the Conservation 2020 program. With the county's projected 62% population growth by 2040, this green space will be essential to the economic and environmental health and overall livability of our community.

Action Requested:
  • Attend the August 12th Workshop and address one or all of these issues.
  • If you can't come, e-mail or call commission members and urge them to address these concerns before the budget is finalized.
  • Spread the word through your organization's communication channels about the importance of citizen participation in this Aug. 12th opportunity in some fashion.
Links to County draft budget materials:
The specific materials on the draft budget for the Aug. 12th meeting are found in the  Aug. 5th workshop package.

The Board has held a series of budget workshops over the past 4 months.  To see materials re: all those workshops, click here.

For details on the procedures for speaking at Board meetings,  check out the Guidelines for testifying before the Board of County Commissioners and other county meetings, as well as how to communicate with the members individually as well as the media.  As with all county public comment opportunities, each person is allowed to speak for no more than 3 minutes.

If you can't be there in person, please write a letter, an email or call County Commissioners
Next steps in budget process after Aug. 12th:
The following are the remaining commission meetings before the final budget is adopted:

Aug. 19th, 1:30 p.m.: BoCC budget workshop to discuss public input and any changes to the budget based on that input.
  • Since the public is not being given an opportunity to speak at these workshops, the only opportunity to provide input to the Board prior to their reaching a consensus on these budget issues is to speak at the end of the regular BoCC meeting the morning of August 19th (9:30 a.m.).  The public can comment on any item not on the agenda during the last agenda item labeled "Public Presentation of Matters by Citizens".  Each person has a maximum of 3 minutes to comment during this period.  
Aug. 26th, 9:30-12:30 :BoCC workshop to finalize budget.(if necessary)

Sept. 3rd, 5 p.m.  First public hearing on the budget.

Sept. 17th, 5 p.m.  Final public hearing and approval of budget and millage rate.

Note:  All three of these meetings can be watched on Channel 97 or on the county's website either live or the recorded video

Background Materials for preparing your comments:
  1. Transportation budget and impact fees:
    See Letourneau Aug. 3rd report(with links to 5 related reports), Pierce Aug. 5th statement, and Aug. 6th LPV press release. 
  2.   Transit funding: BWL blog, July 26, 2014: LeeTran ridership numbers continue falling due to budget cuts , BikeWalkLee's May 25th blog post, BikeWalkLee's April 18th blog postBikeWalkLee's April 10th blog post, and BikeWalkLee's April 8th letter to BoCC members, requesting the Board to restore the LeeTran service cuts in the County's "continuation budget" for FY 2014-15, and BikeWalkLee's Sept. 3, 2013 letter to BoCC urging them to reject proposed transit cuts in the FY 2013-14 budget:,BikeWalkLee's June 18, 2013 letter to BoCC recommending against proposed transit cuts.

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