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LA-MSID votes in favor of potential powers excluding FGUA
September 4, 2019

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The Lehigh Acres Municipal Services and Improvement District has voted in favor of assuming additional areas of responsibility as allowed by state law.

On Aug. 19, the board voted in favor of pursuing the following additional "powers" during its regular meeting; Planning and Zoning, Streetlights, and Sidewalks, which will be placed up for vote on the November 2020 ballot as a local referendum.

The district will have to have an agreement by the end of May to be able to have time to get information to supervisor of elections for November 2020 ballot, officials said.

After careful consideration and the review of various studies including an Acquisition Feasibility Analysis of Florida Governmental Utility Authority completed by Santec, the majority of district commissioners voted against taking over FGUA at this time.

The district board voted 32 against pursuing FGUA for the time being. Commissioner Michael Welch commented on his hesitance to move forward.

In reference to an FGUA acquisition: "I don't feel that the District is in a position to assume a $69 million debt and that our financing of that debt would at the very least mean even higher rates for customers. We don't even have experience with this kind of debt and other costs much less a bond rating. I think Lee County Government has given every indication that our acquisition of the Lehigh System is off the table. Let's work on what the Board of County Commissioners will agree to and that taxpayers are held harmless," Welch stated.

According to District Manager David Lindsay, while the board voted against the acquisition of water and sewer now, they did vote in favor of trying to get an agreement with Lee County on FGUA in time for it the 2022 referendum.

"If we did get approval, it would need to be into the supervisor of elections by July 2022," Lindsay said.

In purchasing FGUA, LA-MSID would need to go through a three-step approval process: (1) Lee County approval and agreement is necessary to allow LA-MSID to assume Lee County's role in the acquisition of the debt and operation, (2) a successful referendum vote of the voters inside LA-MSID, and (3) the approval of the LA-MSID Board of Commissioners.

Welch also voted against the district assuming the Lehigh Acres Lighting District.

"I voted against it at this time as there were several legal hurdles that have to be accomplished namely, the county collects those monies by property tax -- ad valorem. We are a district that collects through an assessment (fee) and I believe it is best worked out for the 2022 ballot. There will be a need for input of the Florida Legislature," Welch said.

Meetings with Lee County Commissioners would be the next step towards moving forward on the proposed acquisition of each power.

"The next step will be for myself and District Chair Mike Bonacolta to set up a meeting with the county commissioners to see what they will allow. Whatever they want to allow us to do, is what we will do," Lindsay said.

The board also approved its first fiscal year 2019-20 Bridge Fund.

"The amount of $285,000 will be put in each year, which continue to build interest and compound yearly. It wouldn't be enough to pay for the bridges forever, but it would pay for at least two or three bridges.

According to Lindsay, the engineer who did a recent bridge study for the district said that a bridge, on average, lasts about 75 years.

"So that would put us at about 2040 for our oldest bridge," Lindsay said. "This should be enough money in the fund these repairs without having to take out a loan. The most expensive bridge would cost $1.75 million, and the least expensive about $772,000."

The Lehigh Acres Municipal Services Improvement District will hold its next meeting on Sept. 16 at 6 p.m. at the LA-MSID, at 601 East County Lane. For information, visit LA-MSID at www.myecwcd.net.

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