Questions loom after sales tax addition proposed

On Tuesday, January 23, 2018, Collier County Commissioners moved one step closer toward asking the voters of Collier County to approve a one-cent sales tax increase in November.

If approved by voters, the one-cent sales tax would bring between $420 million to $490 million in additional revenue for Collier County.

As it stands now, the sales tax would be implemented for seven years and the revenue would be used to improve several areas in Naples including work on the Vanderbilt Beach Road extension, extending Whippoorwill Lane to Livingston Road, replacing 11 bridges and building 11 new bridges in Golden Gate Estates, improving the Randall Boulevard and Immokalee Road intersection, widening Airport Pulling Road from Vanderbilt Beach Road to Immokalee Road, resurfacing Triangle Boulevard in East Naples, and improving sidewalks in various areas of Naples and Immokalee.

Several residents questioned County Commissioners at the meeting about the proposal being labeled as an infrastructure-related sales tax when some of the line items in the proposal include spending $62 million to replace HVAC systems and complete roof repairs at Sheriff’s Office facilities, spending $6 million on a Domestic Animal Services shelter, spending $20 million to increase workforce housing, spending $40 million to build a Veterans Affairs nursing home, spending $33 million to build a forensic/evidence building, spending $60 million for the construction of the Big Corkscrew Island Regional park, as well as spending $10 million to build a workforce training center.

Some residents even asked County Commissioners to consider separating each project so that voters could decide how they want the revenue spent.

Commissioner McDaniel spoke out against the proposal stating that he wanted to see what was contained in each line item.

Additional questions were raised as to why $20 million was added in the infrastructure proposal to combat mental health and why $25 million was added to help with ‘hurricane resilience’ when hurricane resilience is something that should have been identified during construction of county facilities anyway.

Although there are several projects contained in the proposal, the majority of the revenue generated would not find its way back into Immokalee.

According to Geoff Willig, Operations Analyst with the County Manager’s Office, said the VA nursing home, workforce training center, and workforce housing projects would be located within the urban areas of Collier County. However, it’s unlikely that the VA nursing home would be built in Immokalee as there are requirements in place that prohibit the facility from being located too far away from an emergency room or hospital.

Willig went on to say that although Immokalee would see funds for sidewalk improvements, there is no word yet on whether the workforce training center or workforce housing projects would be located within Immokalee.

Companies like Arthrex have pushed for better workforce training in order to help them expand and create jobs in the area. The company announced late last year that they will be expanding in South Carolina rather than expanding one of their existing campuses in Lee or Collier County. The announcement sent a clear message to Collier County Commissioners that workforce training is needed in the area and needed badly.

Arthrex has argued that the cost-of-living in South Carolina compared to southwest Florida is drastically different. Additionally, high schools in Lee and Collier County lack programs that provide career-readiness unlike high schools in South Carolina.

Vice President of Manufacturing at Arthrex, Andy Owen, recently said that the company “looked forward to leveraging the outstanding work done in the area to prepare future employees for high-level manufacturing jobs.”

Due to the lack of workforce training, South Carolina stands to see 1,000 jobs created by Arthrex which could have been created in Lee and Collier County.

For now, Commissioners will move forward with cleaning up the language in the proposal so that voters have a better idea of what they are voting on in November.

Travis can be reached at ibnews@newszap.com

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