The Village of Estero is making good on its promise to operate as “government lite.” Heading into its first fiscal year as an independent municipality, Estero boasts healthy financial reserves and the lowest tax rate in all of Southwest Florida.
Last fall, a new millage rate of 0.7998 went into effect (down from 0.8398 last year). This equates to about 80 cents for every $1,000 of a home’s taxable value. Estero’s tax rate is now lower than the tax rate for unincorporated Lee County and lower than the tax rates of every other city in Lee and Collier counties.
This is good news for Estero residents, who are enjoying a rise in property values. If the Village had not lowered the tax rate, most residents would have faced higher tax bills this year. Now their tax obligations will remain fairly consistent, yet the Village will continue to receive the revenues needed to forge ahead with major planned improvements.
Estero’s inaugural period has been heavy on planning, but several transportation and beautification projects will enhance village life in the year ahead. Along with $3.4 million in capital projects, the 2016-17 budget also includes a healthy reserve of nearly $2.4 million, which would be used only for a natural disaster or fiscal downturn.
While financial advisers recommend families have three-to-six months of living expenses in a savings account, municipalities also must be prudent in saving for emergencies. Estero’s reserves would provide four months of operating revenue without hindering other budget priorities. This is 50 percent more than the state average for operating reserves. Although four months is a healthy reserve, Village Council has set a goal of growing the reserves each year until there are enough funds for an entire 12 months of operation.
Unlike many other Florida municipalities, Estero has no pension liabilities, no operating debt and no outstanding loans. The Village runs a low risk operation with minimal overhead. By contracting with other agencies to provide services, Estero saves its residents money. The village’s 35,000 residents are served by a staff of just seven full-time employees. This is the lowest staffing rate in all of Southwest Florida.
When incorporation was put to a vote in 2014, Village leaders promised they would operate efficiently while maintaining and enhancing the quality of life for Estero residents. Today this promise is being fulfilled. Estero continues to grow its reputation as a coveted Southwest Florida community with strong fiscal health and a high quality lifestyle.