When William “Bill” McDaniel was first elected as Collier County Commissioner in 2016, he sought to change how Collier County spent taxpayer money.
One of the first items on the chopping block was cutting a portion of the $5 million Collier County was using for improvements to median landscaping.
Throughout his first term, Commissioner McDaniel worked to help bring change to District 5 which encompasses the Immokalee area. McDaniel pointed out that he spent his first term emphasizing needed improvements to Lake Trafford Memorial Gardens to help alleviate flooding of the cemetery grounds and completing and passing the Immokalee Area Master Plan.
Now that he is in his second term, McDaniel said that three areas concerning him most are public safety funding, infrastructure improvements and improvements that help promote a better quality of life for area residents.
McDaniel pointed to several infrastructure changes on the horizon for Immokalee that would allow for increased import and exports of local goods. Expansion of the Immokalee Regional Airport is just one improvement that McDaniel sees as necessary.
Currently, runway 9-27 sits at just 5,000 feet long. McDaniel said that the upcoming expansion will increase that to 7,500 feet with room to eventually increase the runway to 10,000 feet.
“We finally have a Master Plan that matches the needs of the Airport Master Plan and for the first time those two plans are in sync,” McDaniel said.
“With the added runway length comes jobs,” McDaniel said. For starters, Immokalee Regional Airport is now home to at least one flight school and all of the existing hangers are currently occupied. “As it stands, there is currently a waiting list for a tenant to occupy a hanger. It costs approximately $1 million to build each new hanger. I would like to see the county build additional hangers, lease them for a period of time and then sell them,” McDaniel said.
Beyond increased anticipated air traffic and jobs associated with it, McDaniel pointed out that local roads will also see a much needed improvement. What was once a plan to build a new toll road from Lakeland to Alligator Alley, the plan has now changed to improve existing roadways instead.
McDaniel cited the recent completion of the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) report. According to McDaniel, one option the taskforce is now looking at is widening State Road 29 on both ends of Immokalee and adding a toll to generate funds to pay for the project. Widening the existing roadway would minimize impact on the natural environment and would be less of an impact to local wildlife.
Immokalee is still slated to see a bypass that will connect State Road 29 to the south of the Immokalee Regional Airport to the northern end of State Road 29 north of New Market Road.
One concern that many have is the increased development of communities in eastern Collier County and the destruction of natural habitat that comes with it. McDaniel recognized this concern. “We need to protect agricultural land around Immokalee by providing credits to landowners to keep those properties available for farming,” McDaniel said.
Impact fees are another topic that Commissioner McDaniel is concerned about. With the average new home costing the homebuyer approximately $30,000 in impact fees, first time home buyers may be priced out of the local market. In recent years, McDaniel has proposed a pilot program for Immokalee where residents could finance their impact fees over a period of time rather than paying those fees up front. Previously that measure didn’t gain traction but McDaniel plans to bring it up again when the County Commissioners meet to hire a new county manager.
When it comes to healthcare and improving access to care, McDaniel said “Immokalee doesn’t have the population to support a hospital yet. We need close to 150,000 residents in this part of the county before we can expect a hospital in this area.” McDaniel didn’t rule out the possibility of private-sector urgent care facilities coming to the area with the growth that is taking place in Ave Maria.
McDaniel said although this election has been challenging for many, we may see a push for nationwide standards when it comes to national elections.
“I’m not opposed to same-day registration [to vote], but we need to end it across the nation on the same day. If your state allows mail-in ballots, then we need to implement a very good system that’s designed to track those ballots,” McDaniel said. McDaniel also said that we need to develop a national standard for how long states have to accept mail-in ballots.
McDaniel said that regardless of the outcome, there will still be challenges that we will face at the local level that leaders will have to face including job growth, education, and improving health care.