By Brendon Leslie
By: Lee County Commissioner and Chairman, Kevin Ruane
When I ran for the Board of County Commissioners, my campaign slogan was: Leadership, Experience, and Results. I used this tagline because I believed my record as the Mayor of Sanibel and as a private sector business owner uniquely qualified me for this office.
It was my lengthy experience as an accountant that I took to Sanibel’s City Hall during some of their darkest financial times.
When I first took office, the city was buried in debt with their reserves depleted. The easiest solution would have been to simply raise taxes. Additional tax revenues would have provided the money needed to balance the budget.
However, easy does not always equate to the best or the right way to solve a problem. Instead, I rolled up my sleeves and went to work. I broke down the budget line by line and made the tough decisions needed to rein in spending and better manage cash flow.
All in all, after 13 years of serving Sanibel we never once raised taxes. Instead, we cut taxes by more 26% while increasing reserves by nearly 85% and reducing debt by 80%.
That was the track record I took to the Lee County Board of County Commissioners this past November. Fortunately, thanks to the conservative leadership of the other commissioners on the BOCC, Lee County’s financial situation was far better off than what I encountered on Sanibel. That said, there is always work to be done and room to make good things even better.
As we entered the budget process in March, I made it clear that I am looking for every possible way to provide Lee County residents with a tax cut as we continue to recover from COVID 19. Having reviewed the staff’s revenue projections and proposed expenditures, I see numerous opportunities that will, at the very least, allow the county to adopt the roll back rate, if not a tax cut. (The roll back rate refers to a reduction of your millage (property tax) rate to offset the increase in property values so that your property taxes remain the same as they were in the previous year.)
I’m not afraid to ask the hard questions and push back against bureaucracy to ensure we are good stewards of your tax dollars. For example, going to the roll back rate would generate about $13 million less in revenues than if we were to leave the millage rate where it is. I believe that $13 million is better left in your pockets instead of in government’s coffers.
I have and will continue to challenge the county on their budget project. In the process of doing this, I have found nearly $35 million in understated revenue projections. I will continue to work to ensure budget projects are accurate so that we can properly assess our ability to offer more of a tax break than simply going to the roll back rate. I look forward to continuing to work with our county staff and my colleagues on the BOCC to put together a budget that operates your county in the most cost effective and efficient manner possible.
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