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Cities question Lee County Commission

Warren Wright

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Cities question Lee County Commission

CREATED Sep. 20, 2013

FORT MYERS, Fla.-  Not so fast!  

That's what a number of city leaders in Lee County are saying tonight... after the county decided to take millions of dollars from the 20-20 conservation program to cover the gap in the county budget. 

This is what it boils down to: Local cities all agreed to contribute to the 20-20 program.
It buys environmentally sensitive land and preserves it.
But now - the county is using money given by the cities to provide other types of services in unincorporated lee county.
And officials in Fort Myers and Cape Coral are now saying "wait a minute! "
Mayor Sullivan of Cape Coral says "this is a typical bait and switch situation... were going to collect the money for one thing and were going to turn around and use it for something else."
Sullivan says his city has contributed nearly 65 million dollars to the 20-20 conservation program since it began in 1996.  
As long as that money goes to purchase critical land promoting water quality - Sullivan doesn't have a problem with it.
But now,  county commissioners have decided to siphon off that money and use it for other things.
Fort Myers City Councilman Tom Leonardo wonders if that's fair.
Leonardo said "I think the five municipalities ought to be talking in public at their council meetings about the fact that the cities are contributing to a fund that is not being used they way it was designed to be used."
Will local municipalities openly revolt? 
20-20 board member Karen Andress understands why elected officials are upset with the county commissioners.
Andress said "They're being very short sighted... i hate for them to leave this legacy of "they just took the money."
And now,  some city leaders point out the county is putting our quality of life at risk- gutting the 20-20 program...  simply because they refuse to cut back on spending to get a balanced budget.
Mayor Sullivan says "they really have to get to the point to get organized and make hard choices... and they' aren't doing that - they are taking the easy way out."
Both city leaders from Cape coral and fort Myers say they intend to put it on their agenda to discuss the validity of the 20/20 program and if they should continue to contribute to it.