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Dollars – and sense

By Staff | May 13, 2022


Lots of governmental financial reports cross the desks in our newsroom.

We’ll let you in on a secret.

We often greet them with a wince.

Many reporters and editors — our own included — are not numbers people. Muddling through the bureaucratic jargon and the CPA-ese to find the what-the-public-wants-to-know kernels buried within can be cumbersome.

Especially when that’s exactly how many budget documents, reports justifying new projects, expenditures, fees and taxes are designed. Yes, all the information may be in there but it’s too often not in a language that a layman can understand on first read and connecting-the-dots context may not be readily apparent.

Useful for the agency’s staff, sure. For the rest of us, not so much.

That’s why a first-ever, designed-for-the-public report issued by the Lee County Clerk of the Courts Office this morning brought a little awe to a deadline day.

Lee Clerk of the Courts and Comptroller Kevin Karnes, appointed in March by Gov. Ron DeSantis to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of Linda Doggett, released the office’s first The Sand Dollar report.

The chart-laden synopsis essentially boils down the office’s independently prepared 200-page Comprehensive Financial Report of Lee County’s finances for the 2021 fiscal year to 20 pages. It hits public finances, demographic changes, trends and more.

“Trends in property taxes, government spending, investments and capital projects are all illustrated in the easy-to-read guide,” the Clerk’s Office said in an accompanying release.

“If you pay taxes in Lee County, it’s important you read this guide and learn how your tax dollars are collected and spent. As your Clerk, it is my priority to ensure all citizens have this information easily accessible,” Mr. Karnes said in a prepared statement.

Cited “highlights in this year’s The Sand Dollar include:”

• Property tax revenues hit a new record of $419.2 million, a $27.8 million increase over the previous fiscal year.

• Tourist tax brought in $52.8 million, a 24% increase over the pre-pandemic record of $42.6 million in fiscal year 2019.

• Impact fees, which are charged to new development, raised $30.2 million, or 53% over the previous fiscal year.

These are dollar numbers presented in a way that makes sense.

Kudos to Mr. Karnes, who served in various lead roles within the office prior to his appointment, and to his team.

A PDF of The Sand Dollar is attached to this editorial.

The synopsis also may be downloaded at leeclerk.org/thesanddollar. Still want to dive deep? The entire Annual Comprehensive Financial Report is available at leeclerk.org/departments/finance/financial-reports/comprehensive-annual-financial-reports-cafr .

Hard copies of The Sand Dollar may be found at all county libraries and the Clerk’s offices, including the Cape Coral Branch at the Lee County Government Center, 1039 S.E. 9th Place. The office is on the second floor.

If you are interested in where your tax dollars go at the county level, we suggest a look.

And we urge other government entities that have not yet done so to take a page from this book.

–Breeze editorial