Is Lee County Leaking Money?

By: Terri Lewis

Sprawl is defined as spreading out awkwardly, or in the context of planning for Lee County, it is spreading development across the county.  Sprawl has a negative connotation for many areas, implying that development is not optimized for costs and use of resources, especially land.  It probably means that the local governments are leaking money.  Is Lee County leaking money?

No one can debate that Lee County is growing.  We live in a great place and others want to come here too.  The key challenge for Lee County is that due to land use plans, many people do not live close to where they work.  Populations in Cape Coral and Lehigh work somewhere else.

This means that in Lee County, we have more roads and they are wider.  In fact, our arterials (Daniels, Colonial, SR82, etc.) are some of the widest in the state, with more cars per day.  Most people would call these roads highways, not arterials. As residents, we’ve got to pay for the maintenance and, eventually, replacement of these miles and miles of roads.  Maintenance is happening now with local and county governments spending significant amounts of their budgets to repave.  Most of our roads will ultimately need to be replaced, typically when they are 30 years old.  Those roads won’t be paid for by developers but by taxpayers. Us.

Water is another significant expense for local governments.  Drinking water, wastewater and sewer all need different treatment technologies and separate piping.  Most people don’t understand that our miles of roads create a wastewater expense as rainwater on the roads must be treated before use. Also, more sprawl, and many more miles of pipes underground.  More population means more need for water.  In summary, Florida lacks drinking water, has lots of roads, and a large growing population… and we’re going to have to get used to increased recycling, reduction in use, and paying more for water.  

How we use land determines where people live and work.  It also determines major expenses, like roads and water.  So how are we going to pay for this?  That is a question many who live here are starting to ask.  Once the developers leave, how will we, as tax payers, going to fund the future expenses?

To answer this, there is a movement afoot to want to work with the local Lee County governments to understand the county’s revenue streams.  A study completed to understand the fiscal health of Lee County is like a complete physical for a person’s health.  Identify the sources of revenues, expenses and where they are located in the county.  A company called Urban3 has done work like this for many areas across the US, including Collier County. They have modeled more than $2 trillion in real estate and worked in over 170 cities, 28 states, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.  

In a project in Ogden, Utah, the data demonstrated the opportunity to prohibit storage units downtown.  The policy also changed to allow an increase in multi-unit housing in commercial zones.  In the previous 60 years, the city had created only 500 housing units; over the last two years, they’ve put in over 1000 units.  A project in New Hampshire sparked the creation of a non-profit program that focused on research, policy change and outreach.  For Lee County, we know we need more housing, but where should they be located?  Do we really need more storage units and car washes? What types of businesses could be generated in Lehigh to enable more people to work closer to their homes?  From Urban3 studies, residents and government officials have been shown to be able to discuss the future based on data and actionable insights.  From these insights, policies can align. Leaking money can be stopped.  Growth is smart – planned, deliberate and fiscally responsible.


Terri Lewis , BSEE, MBA, is Director of Planet Connected, an Industrial Technology Consulting organization based in Fort Myers. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Science in Civil Engineering – Smart Cities from the University of Central Florida.   Email Terri at

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