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Municipal district wrangles over possible adoption of additional powers

By Staff | Aug 14, 2019

The Lehigh Acres Municipal Services and Improvement District met on Aug. 8 for a special workshop to discuss potential powers available through state statutes, Chapter 2015-202.

Additional powers discussed included Planning Advisory Panel for Lehigh Acres, Street Lights, Local Streets and Sidewalks and Water and Waste Water Services.

Former state representative Matt Caldwell spoke before the board and discussed the reasons why the special district was initially formed: to address the many needs of Lehigh Acres’ infrastructure.

Caldwell went over certain aspects of assuming each power. He felt street lighting in particular, to be simpler “power” since it was a question of governance.

“Street lighting is a power where the citizens of Lehigh tax themselves, so that is just an issue of governance. The caveat is that this board is authorized to make non-ad valorem assessments and that particular board operates off of a millage rate. You would have to make sense of how that is going to translate in the transfer of those powers” Caldwell said.

Caldwell also spoke in favor of LA-MSID overseeing a Planning Advisory Panel for Lehigh Acres.

“I would love to see this board have the opportunity to have a group of people who are elected to speak for this community. They are the ones that I think should be directing specific changes in the land use plan for this community. Changes are not going to happen unless an elected body from Lehigh Acres takes the lead,” Caldwell said.

The board then heard from Steve Spratt, assistant manager of Florida Governmental Utility Authority.

District Chair Michael Bonacolta, asked Spratt if he had the opportunity to review the district’s study on obtaining water and sewage powers, and his thoughts on the feasibility.

“It’s really a policy, government question. Only the county government has the exclusive right to acquire FGUA. And there are bond covenants that govern what they have to do to buy it,” Spratt said.

According to Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass, the discussion as to whether the LA-MSID could assume powers over water and sewage is futile.

“If it did come before the county, I would definitely not support it. They would end up having to raise the assessment fees to pay for the cost of acquiring FGUA. I don’t support raising the fees and putting that kind of burden on Lehigh Acres residents. I’m concerned as to why they are even considering doing this,” Pendergrass said.

Pendergrass went on to urge the district to focus on where its current authority falls.

“They have so many other liabilities to take care of such as the bridges in Lehigh. I think they should start thinking more about building up capital reserves in case they need it for things like bridge repairs or a replacement bridge,” Pendergrass said.

District commissioners did agree to sit down with Spratt from FGUA to discuss further areas where improvements can be made to the current water and sewage infrastructure and future plans for expansion.

The board also heard presentations from Mohamed Yasin, of Lehigh Acres Street lighting Unit (MSTU) Advisory Committee and Tami Baker of The Lehigh Acres Architectural, Planning and Zoning Review Board.

The Lehigh Acres Municipal Services Improvement District will hold a special budget hearing on Aug. 19 at 5 p.m. Following the hearing, a regularly scheduled meeting will take place at 6 p.m. at the LA-MSID, at 601 East County Lane. Prior to the regular meeting, there will be a budget hearing at 5 p.m.

For information, visit www.myecwcd.net

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