So much to do, so little time. That’s probably what will be on the minds of the Marco Island City Councilors Tuesday as they address packed agendas.
City Council has a full agenda combining two meetings in one day beginning 3 p.m., Tuesday, due to the cancellation of the Aug. 18 meeting because of tropical storm Fay.
The early afternoon meeting will include a decision on whether to implement a fire assessment and how much that assessment will be. Approval of the budget and setting the property tax rate are top among the second meeting of the day Tuesday.
Based on previous discussions City Council members have expressed a desire to implement a significantly lower fire assessment than the approximate $80 bill sent to residential property owners in late July.
Councilors have responded to many tax payers’ concerns about the assessment which intends to make paying for fire service more equitable by charging all customers the same based on property type such as single family, multi-family or commercial rather than charging based on property value, as is the current case with ad valorem taxes.
“I prefer to continue funding fire through ad valorem taxation and have said so on multiple occasions. I would support establishing the assessment structure, but not funding it. Just in case the Florida Legislature passed legislation that would result in our inability to continue funding fire services through ad valorem taxation,” Councilor Frank Recker wrote in an e-mail to island residents, regarding his stance on the issue.
Recker said he supports ad valorem taxation because property taxes are tax deductible on Federal Income Taxes while the assessment is not. Many property owners and members of the Marco Island Taxpayers Association agree that ad valorem is preferable for this reason.
Fire Chief Mike Murphy and City Attorney Alan Gabriel said that the assessment must be funded in order to establish a fire assessment district.
Recker responded saying he will likely then support a very nominal fee as low as $5.
City Council will also discuss budget issues in the early afternoon including the five new requested staff positions, which City Manager Steve Thompson recommends should stay in the 2009 budget.
“The positions will remain frozen pending the productivity report,” Thompson added.
Community events will be discussed with the possibility of cutting city support for community activities in half from about $154,000 last year to $75,000 this year. It is among the only areas that will may be decreased in 2009.
A large portion of the capital budget is money for several bridge improvements. The current 2009 budget includes $2.5 million for repairs to four bridges and $500,000 to be set aside toward funding the future replacement of the two Smokehouse Bay Bridges for about $13 million.
Bridges to be repaired in 2009 include the Caxambas Bridge, two Kendall Drive bridges and a bridge on Hernando Drive.
“All of these bridges are at the end of their original life. These improvements will give us another 15 to 20 years of extended life,” said Public Works Director Rony Joel.
Setting the millage rate and approving the 2009 budget are the top issues in the 5:30 p.m. City Council meeting Tuesday.
The preliminary maximum millage rate was set at 1.454 mils or $1.45 per $1,000 of taxable property value in addition to .0849 mils or about $.85 per $1,000 of property value for Veterans Community Park.
City Council members have expressed a desire to lower the ad valorem rate proportionally based on approval of a fire assessment.
City Councilor Chuck Kiester said he would like to consider not lowering the property tax rate and establishing the fire assessment but only if the additional revenue is put toward increasing the reserves.
The city’s reserves are currently about $12 million or 13 percent of the total budget.
“It’s low but it’s not an area of concern. The goal would be about 25 percent (of the total budget.) We’re building reserves as we go along and we’re doing it prudently,” said Finance Director Bill Harrison of the relatively young city’s reserve balance.
After voting on the assessment in the early afternoon, City Council will set the actual ad valorem rate in the second meeting Tuesday evening.
The total budget is about $95 million for 2009 up from about $85 million for 2008. The approximate 10 percent increase over last year does not extend beyond the city’s spending cap which is 3 percent, plus a cost of living adjustment increase from one fiscal year to the next year, Harrison said.
This year the city may not spend more than 5.3 percent beyond last year’s budget but some funds are excluded from that chartered rule.
“All self-supported enterprise funds are exempt from the spending cap and almost all the increases are in capital projects, also exempt from the cap. We’re still moving along with the STRP, we are expanding and modernizing the waste water sewer plant as well as putting in $1.5 million in bridge improvements. The spending cap is on the general fund,” Harrison explained.
Other items for discussion in the second meeting Tuesday include Chairman Bill Trotter’s involvement with the Judge S.S. Jolley Bridge’s toll feasibility study. Trotter has been meeting with members of the Collier County Metropolitan Planning Organization and Florida Department of Transportation to help steer the focus of the study.
At this time Trotter said he is recommending the study be delayed until it is determined whether money from the proposed leasing of Alligator Alley may be used by Collier County.
“I don’t want to talk about tolls, toll studies or referendums until we look at alternative funding for the replacement of the bridge ... We’ll put off the next steps until Spring and kind of lobby in the mean time,” Trotter said.
MPO will be meeting in September and Trotter hopes to get a sense from the rest of City Council as to whether he should keep moving forward in the direction he’s been taking.
Other items for discussion include:
– A request from Summit Management Group to increase the annual maximum number of outdoor special events at the Esplanade from 28 to 56.
– Public bidding or continuing with the current contractor, Mitchell and Stark Construction for year-four of the Septic Tank Replacement Program construction in the Kendall and Mack Park sewer districts.
Due to the long agenda between the two meetings Tuesday, discussion of 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 has been deferred to the Sept. 15 meeting. Also deferred is a discussion about using the 8 percent charge on utility bills in 2009 to make up for a loss in water utility money due to 2008 water restrictions rather than using it for construction of the treatment plant as originally planned.
The first City Council meeting is 3 p.m., Tuesday, in the Community Room, 51 Bald Eagle Drive next door to the police station. The second meeting is 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the same location.
The full agenda is available on the City of Marco Island’s Web site cityofmarcoisland.com.