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School Board member: Schools need half-penny tax

February 28, 2018
By MELISSA BILL ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

District 3 Lee County School Board Member Chris Patricca explained the need for a half-penny sales tax to the Lehigh Acres Community Council at last Monday.

The district voted recently to put the issue on the November ballot in hope of generating funds for capital projects.

This means Lee County voters will decide whether to raise the current 6 percent sales tax to 6.5 percent.

According to Patricca while the state agrees that there is a need for additional funding for the building of more schools, there is not enough money to build them.

"We've found some pretty creative ways to raise additional funding, and taken steps to cut costs wherever possible, but it's just not enough," Patricca said. Currently it's predicted that the district will face a $478 million revenue shortfall over the next five years."

According to Patricca, Lee County will need an additional seven schools in the next five years due to a steady growth in the student population.

"We already have overcrowding in many of the schools and some that are in desperate need of repairs," said Patricca.

Opposition has already formed surrounding the tax increase issue. Many are suggesting alternative ways to raise the additional revenue such as increasing impact fees.

"Raising the current impact fees is not the answer. They would only aid minimally, said Patricca. "Without the half-cent sales tax, the school district would have to borrow money for school construction, which would increase the cost."

Money raised through the sales tax would be used to finance, plan and construct infrastructure, with some funds going towards ramping up safety and security equipment and technology.

Council President Rick Anglickis and other members of the council brought up an issue recently called to attention by State Rep. Matt Caldwell who filed proposed legislation that would require county governments and school districts wanting a local option sales tax to go through an extensive performance audit prior to election day.

According to Patricca, the school board is open to an audit and feels it will give the public a better view of their financials.

Other agenda items included a motion put forth by Incorporate Lehigh Inc.'s President Joan Cunningham to adopt a resolution on the research into the viability of incorporation.

"We would like some representation for Incorporate Lehigh Inc. and feel that a resolution can help in that effort," said Cunningham.

The council also is currently working on a resolution objecting to the rezoning of the Troyer Brothers Property in order to open an additional Limerock mining operation on State Rd. 82.

Prior to the council meetings regular meeting, the board held its zoning review meeting, which featured two projects up for approval.

The first was for the approval on a special exemption for a cell phone tower by AIM Engineering, which was approved unanimously. The second was for a special exception on the building specifications of a lanai on a home residing in Vistanna Villas.

The homeowner, Terry McWilliams, who presented the project, was attempting to get a permit to build a lanai similar to the other 50 currently constructed in his neighbor, but was denied by the county.

After some research, McWilliams was told they now needed to obtain a special permit and pay $1,000 fee. He was asking the board for its approval on an exception to the ordinance, so he could move forward to obtain the necessary permit.

"My end goal is to build a lanai the same size as the current ones in my neighborhood," said McWilliams.

Anglickis motioned to grant a special exception to an ordinance on the lanai size providing approval by the condo association.

The council board unanimously passed the motion to accept the variance.

The council meets on the third Monday of each month from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Lee County Sheriff's Office East District substation, at 1301 Homestead Road N.

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