With the stroke of the pen, Florida Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a bill that would have given authority to the East County Water Control District (ECWCD) that covers Lee and Hendry counties the power to authorize the District to construct street lighting and sidewalk facilities.
Scott said in a letter to Secretary Kenneth W. Detzner, secretary of state for the Florida Department of State and distributed to members of the East County Water Control District that the District is an independent special district which was created for the specific purpose of providing draining and water control services to Lehigh Acres.
"The authority to install and construct street lighting and sidewalk facilities falls outside of the District's special grant of authority, and is traditionally a function of the local city or county," the governor said.
"The bill's expansion of the District's authority allows multiple local governments to provide the same or similar services, resulting in the potential for duplicative taxation and an increased cost of living for families in Lee County."
"Speaking for myself, I respect the governor's decision. As a conservative Republican, Gov. Scott is for limited government and he felt that Lee County already had the authority to provide for sidewalks. According to the governor this responsibility belongs to county government. He didn't want two entities performing this service," said Mike Welch, a member of the ECWCD and its former chairman.
"Even if we were granted the power, individual neighborhoods would have to vote for sidewalks and pay an extra fee subject to a vote. I guess if people want above and beyond what the core service is with Lee County, then they can ask the county commissioners for options. The authority for taking over street lighting that the bill outlines - again the governor feels that it is part of the county's function and not ours. I fully understand the reasoning and I guess I would hesitate to support a similar bill such as this in the future. The governor has made his feelings clear."
Many in Lehigh Acres have complained for years that getting necessary sidewalks built in Lehigh is difficult. Others have also complained about the lack of street lighting in the community, which now has a population of more than 90,000 people.
In the past, it has been troublesome for residents to get a street light as they had to appear before a local board which didn't publicize itself. Many folks don't realize they can get street lights posted on county property on their streets.
Just last week, members of the Lehigh Acres Community Planning Corp. complained about the governor's veto, saying it was not fair.
Edd Weiner, the outgoing president of the LACPP said if one drives down Treeline Ave, between Colonial Blvd. and Daniels Parkway in Fort Myers and on out to the airport, you will see street lights while much of the area is not yet fully developed.
"But in Lehigh, you see street lights down a street, and then it stops, and you see no street lights in areas where it is needed at night," Weiner said.
He blamed the county for not paying attention to Lehigh where he said street lights were desperately needed on public property in neighborhoods.
However, Gov. Scott noted when he vetoed House Bill 1281 which had been enacted during the 115th Session of the Legislature of Florida during the regular session of 2013, that expanding the scope of authority of a water control district is not the most appropriate means for residents to receive the desired services and there are other avenues to which residents of the District may pursue.
"I look forward to working with the local legislative delegation and residents of the water control district to help facilitate these needs," Scott said.
"For these reasons, I withhold my approval of Committee substitute for House Bill 1281` and do hereby veto the same," Scott said.