Taxpayers to take on fire assessment with Marco City Council

Association seeks to protect residents during budget process

Whether you call it a tax, an assessment or a fee, if it’s money coming out of the pockets or accounts of Marco Island taxpayers, there is an organization that will be watching where that money goes.

It’s the Marco Island Taxpayers Association, a nonprofit watchdog organization of about 650 members who work to keep residents’ taxes low and their money going to the right places. It was founded in 1975 to keep an eye on Collier County government spending and tax collecting, but shifted focus when the City of Marco Island incorporated about 10 years ago.

Several members, including the president of the association, plan to vocally oppose the fire assessment in Monday’s City Council meeting. MITA members have opposed all fees and assessments, including the fire assessment, while supporting the traditional funding of city government through property taxes.

President Fay Biles has a background that comes in handy when taking on city government issues. In the case of the fire assessment, Biles said she brings forth a decade of experience serving as the chairwoman of the Emergency Medical Services Advisory Committee of Collier County and three degrees in health sciences, including a double doctorate in health sciences and communication.

This background tipped Biles off that perhaps the consulting firm, Government Services Group, Inc. miscalculated the portion of EMS versus fire service when determining how much could be assessed to Marco Island property owners.

Medical background or not, other residents have also asked why EMS, fire and police respond to many of the same calls.

“Diesel fuel is extremely high ... Stop sending three sirens up our streets. People have complained for years,” Biles exclaimed.

Council set the maximum rate for the fire assessment at $79 annually for a single family residence. This preliminary rate is slightly higher for condominium units, commercial and industrial properties. The assessment may be lowered and some residents say they would like for it to be done away with completely.

Marco Island Fire Rescue Chief Mike Murphy said the fire assessment is a “fair” way to pay for fire service. Property owners will pay based on average use of fire service per property type such as single family, multi-family, commercial and industrial versus paying based on taxable property value which is partially determined upon whether a residence is homesteaded.

Secondly, he said the fire assessment allows for fire service to remain appropriately funded regardless of what the state legislature and overall economy may do to diminish the amount of money collected from property taxes.

Councilors Chuck Kiester and Wayne Waldack have supported the fire assessment for similar reasons, based on their comments in previous meetings.

The only councilor to vote against the assessment so far is Ted Forcht.

Vocal residents in support of the new fire assessment have yet to come forward and speak on the issue, but several have spoke up against it.

Many of the residents against it are members of MITA. The taxpayers association is taking on many issues in this year’s budget process. Some of them are likely to come up in Monday’s City Council meeting such as the inclusion of six new city employees which will remain in the budget according to City Manager Steve Thompson.

The positions will not be filled immediately and each will be determined pending the results of a productivity report which will be complete in the next several months, he said.

“They should not be adding anybody in this economic state ... They’re spending money now that nobody knows where it’s coming from,” Biles said.

While MITA members address some other budget items Monday, Biles said she plans to speak up primarily about the fire assessment. Her primary challenge is that the recommended fire assessment rates have been calculated on false data.

The GSG consulting firm hired by the city calculated that 9 percent of the Marco Island Fire Department’s budget is used toward EMS. EMS may not be paid for through assessments, so this ratio is critical in determining the amount of the fire assessment.

Biles says the ratio of 91:9 is not possible.

“The vast majority of calls are medical calls, not fire calls,” she said.

Biles added that she sought guidance from Collier County officials who “didn’t want to mess with it because it’s Marco Island. Why is there bad blood between Collier County and Marco?” she pondered aloud.

Biles shared some data collected in Collier County that may highlight her concerns.

The figures that Biles found to be startling are based on the consulting firm’s report that indicates that 685 fire calls in a year cost the fire district more than $4 million.

At that rate a fire call would cost $6,000 on Marco Island, at least three times the cost of the county’s average which is less than $2,000 per call, she said.

“GSG’s report needs to be corrected before City Council can approve an assessment based on their information,” Biles wrote in a plea to City Council Wednesday for them to reconsider their position on the assessment.

MITA members and other residents oppose the fire assessment for other reasons as well.

Amadeo Petricca is also a member of the MITA board of directors. As a retired accountant, Petricca said he always looks at the “devious side of people” when it comes to money matters.

He says he opposes the fire assessment because unlike property taxes, the fire assessment cannot be deducted from Federal Income Taxes. Petricca said he also sees the fire assessment as a potential way to lose control over how the money is spent and how quickly the assessment rises.

MITA members are frequently present at City Council meetings to help protect residents, particularly the interests of the average homeowner rather than commercial interests.

“There are only a handful of us really fighting for the taxpayers of the island,” Petricca said.

He said he joined MITA last year because he saw Council working to protect commercial interests and MITA as an organization working to protect residents.

Petricca said although he is a member of MITA he doesn’t always represent the organization.

“Sometimes I freewheel ... (Biles) has to hold me back sometimes,” he said.

An issue that Petricca said bothers him is the misappropriation of funds. He remains upset about his finding that money set aside specifically to place electric lines underground continues to be used to pay for the electricity going to street lights on Collier Boulevard.

Petricca is opposed to a similar idea that will be presented in Monday’s City Council meeting.

Finance Director Bill Harrison is proposing that an 8 percent surcharge on customers’ water bills be used for something other than its original intent. The 8 percent charge on water bills was to be used toward rebuilding the water treatment plant, a need that came from the septic tank replacement program.

City Council will be discussing the idea of using the $1.66 million raised from this surcharge on the water bill to make up for lost revenue caused by water restrictions.

Harrison said South Florida Water Management District’s once a week watering rules “coincidentally” caused about a $1.66 million loss in money received by the utility.

“They’re always looking to mitigate their losses,” Petricca said and added that the residents can’t always make up for such losses.

“The only other option is for City Council to recognize the operating deficit and run off the reserves of the system. There is not much in reserves because it’s a young utility,” Harrison said.

If City Council approves the proposal, the 8 percent surcharge will remain in effect one extra year. The first 25 years is to pay for the treatment plant and the money collected this year will instead be used for operating expenses, causing the 8 percent charge to remain for the next 26 years.

The City Council meeting is 5:30 p.m., Monday, in the Community Room, 51 Bald Eagle Drive next door to the police station.

Other items for discussion include:

– Increasing outdoor special events at the Esplanade.

– A draft resolution for an interlocal agreement between the city and the District School Board of Collier County regarding the possible future development of Tract K.

The full agenda is available on the City of Marco Island’s Web site www.cityofmarcoisland.com.

© 2008 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 16

JohninMarco writes:

Thank you Ms. Biles, At least someone is showing that they care about the middle class.

SmokeyJoe writes:

Council Members should be making their decisions based on input from the residents of Marco that voted them in to office to hold the line on spending in these difficult times. The staff is always going to be for more employees, more benefits and more spending in general. They have their personal interest in mind. Will the council listen to those that have to pay the bills or those that want to spend more money? We will see who,s interests they will support !

lauralbi1 writes:

Dear Dr. Biles: With the utmost respect, and respecting your goals, it should be clear to you, based on your experience and education, that our cost per call for Fire response is much higher than that of the County. Without any judgement as to the accuracy of the figures, I do not find it hard to believe that our cost is 3 times higher than that of the County's. They have more calls (to amortize their costs), a lower cost per Station and Fireman, a lower per capita cost, and an already capitalized investment in their Fire Department assets (buildings, trucks, etc). There is a fixed cost that Marco has in it's
Fire Department. If the Fire Department made one call per year, the cost would be $4 million per call. I'm certain that the Police figures are even more skewed (than the County Sherriff) as we have less calls per officer, less calls per capita. But I consider that a good thing !!!
The people of Florida were "politically manipulated" by the Florida Legislature with the Property Tax rollback being approved to be placed on the Ballot. While cities must cut back on expenses, research will result in these Assessments being implemented by almost every City in Florida (many have already implemented them, do you want to contact them with me to make a list) to make up for deficits. It will be interesting to see, over time, if there is a net decrease to the citizens of Florida in their taxes and assessments as a result. It will also be interesting to see how many Police, Fire and Medical responses are delayed and how many result in loss of life or property, when cutbacks are forced as a result of these tax rollbacks.
As the "650" members of your organization are, percentage wise, the highest users of these services (yes, we can work together to confirm this based on average age), it will be interesting to see their reaction if they are the ones that experience this result.
By the way, 911 and Public Safety are just one area of my working expertise, and many (most) Medical dispatches are accompanied by a Fire Department truck. You and your members should restrict your comments to that which you have expertise and knowledge.
And Tongue In Cheek aside, you, of all people, should acknowledge the "bad blood" between Collier and Marco. Why don't you work to get back some of the $140 million in taxes we pay to the County for basically nothing in return.
Ed Issler

dc5799 writes:

Issler,
You are suuuch a jerk still spouting figure's. The people of Florida voted for the tax roll back, but Marco has a hard time trying to find way's to cut back. Most other counties are finding way's.

hourigan82247 writes:

TAXPAYER'S WATCH DOG COMMITTEE ? What are they watching? Noone sees where the taxes have gone? Yeah, they're "watch dogs" and the taxpayers are wearing "Milkbone underwear"

lauralbi1 writes:

No, DC 5799, it is you that are wrong. In anticipation of the rollback, Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa, Venice, Miami and many other municipalities have, or had already, implemented Assessment Districts for various services to make up for shortfalls in revnue. I sold a 911/Dispatch system to Miami that had to wait until their Assessment took effect until we could get funding. Please just indicate below and we can call each and every Florida City and County and ask them what they are doing to make up for the Proposition that we approved.
We can get started right away. YOU WILL NOT LIKE THE RESULTS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Ed Issler

jhirsch writes:

"Medical background or not, other residents have also asked why EMS, fire and police respond to many of the same calls."

This is one I don't understand either. I am, and I sure others are, hesitant to call 911 because of all the commotion the 3 departments cause when they arrive. My wife broke her ankle and was in pain, I needed help to get her to the hospital so I called 911 for an ambulance. That's all we needed was an ambulance, not the police or the fire truck. She didn't break any laws, just her ankle and she wasn't on fire! Just in a lot of pain!
I would think that money could have been save had the police & the fire truck not been dispatched. I'm sure there are many cases just like this one. It's just management without reason! And here’s other one, what about that colored paper they print our Water Bill on every month. We all know the extra cost of colored ink! I wonder if they have a Suggesting Program in City Hall. I’m sure the employees could come up with a lot of good saving ideas instead of have our pockets picked every time the spending gets out of hand…

lauralbi1 writes:

Contact Lisa Douglass at the City. I think they already have a savings idea program and if they don't they should have !!
Ed Issler

Fossil writes:

Issler, our Governor and State Representatives had no trouble selling the idea of lower spending? Why? Because they received their direction from the voters. Unlike our politicos, they did what the voters asked them to do. The people have no more money to give. What makes you think Floridians approve of politicos finding new ways to pay for lost revenue? Do they have a secret desire to get ripped off? They expect our leaders to live within their means just like the voters have to do. I have a suggestion, get rid of our Council and instate John Arceri as Supreme Leader of Marco Island. John will find it much easier to pick our pockets. He will be able get all his ideas implemented without having to waste time manipulating those seven puppets. One leader working in the open to spend our money and tax us to the poor house, will go a long way to give us transparent government.

jjohnson2009 writes:

From marcoislandblog.blogspot.com:

Thanks to the efforts of a local patriot, the following links are to the emails produced by the City of Marco Island due to a Freedom of Information Act (Florida Statute 119) request.

The over-600 pages of emails are quite revealing and raise some questions. Here is an incomplete synopsis from a quick perusal:

There are many instances where city employees and councilpersons are being told what to do, what to say, and before they say anything, they run it by a one John Arceri as quoted "to make sure it looks good".
This same individual is requesting reviews/studies/visits from companies on behalf of the city. Where exactly did this authorization come from?
This individual is communicating on behalf of the city with vendors, contractors and other organizations as the intermediary between them and city employees and councilpersons. Where exactly did this authorization come from?
City employees and councilpersons are being bombarded by "information" by this individual.
This individual reviews and comments on public performances and public declarations by city employees.

Even the wives of the councilpersons are communicating with this individual on city issues.

happyonmarco writes:

Wow, Forcht was the only councilman to vote against the fire assessment? I didn't think he was that smart.

August8 writes:

Don't call Issler names,he may not be right but at least he backs up his position with what he believes are facts!!

Problem is he forgets some things like the huge increase in revenues due to property value increases and the bottom when it came out. Nobody, even him could see the deepest of this concern.

Now, what Issler should do is end the us against them mentality, realize he is part of a larger system that should and must make cost adjustments based on the circumstances. Because he lives on Marco he is not in an incubater, is it the county he is mad at or Marco?

As a Marco resident I would say if taxes remain such a concern then turn the services over to the County, police and fire, then you get what you pay the County for! You can't have it both ways.

Lastly, the choices have been clear for a long time, residence are investing in a wealthy Island that will expell the traditional Marco resident who thought that things would never change, that they could run around this rock goosed all the time, and not be subjected to the rules and expenses that the remainder of the world are.
The future is here!!

dc5799 writes:

So guy's this council is more corrupt than the last one, because arceri put them in there. I must say he couldn't control Tucker.
He is not all that squeaky clean himself. Did I not read something about him or his family a few years ago in the paper
And we all know who the council members wife is.

Fossil writes:

dc5799, you are who you hang with. Perception is everything.

lauralbi1 writes:

I think we all are in agreement that we do not need new City employees. I think we all agree that spending must be reviewed and cut back where available. The issue is if we need to make up for revenue shortfall, then we need an assessment of some kind. Let's see how the numbers come out.
Ed Issler

August8 writes:

jhersch, C'mon dude use a little since?

If you are that tight on money you should be living in a tent on a reservation!, not on Marco

There are many justifiable and logical reasons that multiple equipment are dispatched to medical calls, not enough ink here to explain to you.
I'll bet you would be the person that would scream the loudest if the emergency response to your call was insufficient to assist you.

Take a rest and count your nickels dude!!!

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