Marco Island to raise taxes, add fire assessment, increase staff

Resident Richard Smith voices his concerns to Marco City Council Thursday evening about the fire assessment. Smith said he did not believe the fire assessment was fair based on the idea that as long as  insurance rates aren't the same for all home owners, than the charge for fire service should not be the same for all home owners.

Photo by KELLY FARRELL, Staff // Buy this photo

Resident Richard Smith voices his concerns to Marco City Council Thursday evening about the fire assessment. Smith said he did not believe the fire assessment was fair based on the idea that as long as insurance rates aren't the same for all home owners, than the charge for fire service should not be the same for all home owners.

Marco City Council Chariman Bill Trotter shakes hands with Chief Water Plant Operator Jack Green, recognizing Green for his 30 years of service to the water utility. Green was among seven employees who received a $2,000 bonus and was recognized by City Council for achieving a five-year employment increment.

Photo by KELLY FARRELL, Staff // Buy this photo

Marco City Council Chariman Bill Trotter shakes hands with Chief Water Plant Operator Jack Green, recognizing Green for his 30 years of service to the water utility. Green was among seven employees who received a $2,000 bonus and was recognized by City Council for achieving a five-year employment increment.

Resident Richard Smith voices his concerns to Marco City Council Thursday evening about the fire assessment. Smith said he did not believe the fire assessment was fair based on the idea that as long as  insurance rates aren't the same for all home owners, than the charge for fire service should not be the same for all home owners.

Photo by KELLY FARRELL, Staff // Buy this photo

Resident Richard Smith voices his concerns to Marco City Council Thursday evening about the fire assessment. Smith said he did not believe the fire assessment was fair based on the idea that as long as insurance rates aren't the same for all home owners, than the charge for fire service should not be the same for all home owners.

Resident Bill McMullen requests Marco City Councilors to discuss not just how to raise money but also how the city can cut expenses.

Photo by KELLY FARRELL, Staff // Buy this photo

Resident Bill McMullen requests Marco City Councilors to discuss not just how to raise money but also how the city can cut expenses.

The City of Marco Island is poised to raise taxes, send out more than $2 million total in fire assessment bills and add six new city workers.

“We need to allow ourselves flexibility,” council member Jerry Gibson.

The council unanimously decided this week to approve a tax rate of 1.454 mills or just over $1.45 per $1,000 of taxable property value.

City Manager Steve Thompson is required to report this maximum property tax rate to Collier County officials by Aug. 1.

It is possible that the council will decide later to decrease this tax rate, but it was made clear that even if a lower rate is set, property owners will be paying more than last year’s rate of $1.20 per $1,000 of taxable property.

The only alternative is to cut services, Thompson said.

“I have no interest in growing a staff in these economic times… We’ve always been right on the line of whether we could provide these services,” he added.

Since Marco Island incorporated about 10 years ago, it hasn’t raised the property tax rate. The city has been able to lower the rate and keep up with expenses primarily due to years of property value increases.

“A lot of cities have reduced their tax levy, but not as much as we have,” Thompson said.

“What’s different about Marco Island is that we are the only city with a spending cap” in its charter, city financial director Bill Harrison said.

The spending cap limits the city’s operating expenses by an increase in the cost of living plus 3 percent over the prior year’s spending.

“The spending cap constantly limits growth. It has kept this a lean government. That was the purpose and it’s been successful in doing that,” Thompson said.

This spending cap prohibits the city from setting tax rates that vary greatly from one year to the next, Harrison said.

“In a normal city when things are booming they can raise taxes,” Harrison added.

In addition to an increased tax rate, property owners soon will be receiving a notice in the mail for a new fire assessment.

Council voted 5-2 on Thursday to approve funding the fire assessment at 50 percent of the maximum allowed. This will bring in more than $2 million to be used for the Marco Island Fire Rescue District.

Single-family residences will be receiving a bill for approximately $80 before Aug. 4. Multifamily units, such as condominiums, will receive a bill of about $106 and commercial properties will pay 29 cents per square foot.

Commercial properties such as the Marco Island Marriott will “have a heart attack,” City Council member Frank Recker said.

Council member Chuck Kiester voted against this funding rate, preferring to set the rate so that it would raise up to 100 percent of the fire district’s approximately $4 million budget. Property owners’ bills instead would be double that under the planned rates, he contended.

“The maximum allowed millage rate is 10 ($10 on every $1,000 of property value). We could do that with a unanimous vote,” Recker said.

Recker said he wasn’t recommending that, but to raise the tax rate that high would be similar to allowing for the maximum assessment. It would outrage the public when council truly didn’t plan to raise taxes anywhere nearly that high, he explained.

“Why would you take that heat?” island resident Ken Honecker asked as the council decided whether to set the higher rates Thursday.

“I think we need to keep our options open although we will probably reduce both (the assessment and tax rate),” Kiester said.

Council member Ted Forcht voted against the fire assessment, which is what public speakers on the issue urged the council to do.

“I have trouble with the fire assessment. If the fire chief (Mike Murphy) can sell you on this, I think he should sell it to the insurance companies urging them that all their (property insurance) rates should be the same,” island resident Richard Smith said.

Resident Bill McMullen said he was disappointed City Council never discussed the issue of spending cuts.

“I haven’t heard of cutting any expenses ... It doesn’t matter whether you take this out of my left pocket or my right pocket,” McMullen said.

He added that he didn’t understand how Thompson could propose adding several employees at a time when the City of Naples just announced the layoff of more than 20 employees.

In a memo from Thompson to City Council regarding the upcoming budget hearing, Thompson suggested adding three firefighters, an accountant, a human resources coordinator and an information technology specialist in the utilities department.

Code enforcement and another employee within the police department also were proposed, but not necessarily recommended.

In an interview after the council meeting, Thompson elaborated on the requests.

“If we end up not adding employees we can deal with it,” he said.

He added that although cities have different circumstances, he demonstrated Marco Island’s conservative staffing size in comparison to Naples, Sanibel Island, Venice and Vero Beach.

Marco Island has one city employee for every 80 residents, he contended, saying the ratios for the other cities are Naples 46:1, Sanibel 40:1, Venice 74:1 and Vero Beach 33:1.

Marco Island’s small staff, Thompson explained, doesn’t allow the city to cut employees without taking out a whole department, service or function.

He further explained that he requested department heads inform him of what was not getting done or getting done properly in each department. The recommendations for these staff members were to fill those voids.

Fire service had more than 500 calls which were responded to by off-island departments.

“While the frugal side of me says that’s great, let them pay to provide our service, the other side of me thinks about safety,” Thompson said.

Council requested that Thompson not hire anyone but perhaps the police chief until their next meeting on Aug 4. Thompson is scheduled to interview the five police chief finalists Aug. 1.

Marco City Council will be reviewing the expenditure budget, including the proposal to add more employees, at 8:30 a.m. Friday, Aug. 4, in the Community Room next to the police department, 51 Bald Eagle Drive.

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

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Comments » 20

dc5799 writes:

Here we go again all you pro sewer people who voted Arceri's gang in.Hope your happy.

Fossil writes:

Thank you condo owners. You were warned and you didn't believe what you were being told. Now you know. Enjoy signing those checks. Trotter, Waldack, Richer and that silly bartender the mumbles like he took a toot before he entered chambers, are all drooling over the prospect of getting more of your money. Thanks for being informed and knowledgable. You got exactly what you deserved.

ed34145 writes:

Gee, dc5799....if you took a minute to actually THINK....you'd realize that when Arceri was on Council, your taxes (if you are actually a homesteaded resident) went DOWN...all FOUR years.

happy6 writes:

arceri had NOTHING to do with taxes going down...come on ed....we all know why taxes went down...property values.

Lolala writes:

Who would have guessed? Not counting the more than 3,000 voters that voted against the current crop of politicos in Marco Island (most of whom have sold their homes or are trying to), this couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of people. Hope this trend continues and you all get what you wanted for Marco Island. Glad to be gone.

hourigan82247 writes:

Come with me into the future. The year- 2055... "Grandpa, Why don't you and Grandma ever have enough money to live on Marco Island comfortably?" "Well Grandson, about fifty years ago there was this councilman named John Arceri...BLAH BLAH BLAH Looking for blame? Look in the mirror. You'll see the problem staring at you. Go to council meetings and voice you opinions openly instead of hiding behind some nom de plume. Blame yourselves not John Arceri!!!

happyonmarco writes:

I watched the council meeting and not one citizen spoke in favor of the fire assessment. Why then did it fail 6-1? Assessments are obviously not what most of the residents want. I just don't understand why the council isn't listening.

heebeed writes:

None of you get it. It's all a sham. These things are a done deal, the council just puts on a show to make us think they want our input and then vote on it. The fire assessment, the STRP, the toll on the bridge and now the electric company purchase. They are all a "done deal". And a "deal" they are/were. Pockets are lined and will continue to be lined. Voting and referendums are a farce. The decisions are made way before the votes are in. The "study" on the electric company purchase is a laugh. Believe me, it will be purchased by the city. And our electric bill will soar, as our water/sewer has. How do you think they can get rid of the middle class on this island? The goal is "upper class" Marco Island only...bye bye "peasants".

34145 writes:

Cameras on the bridges should have told us something!! We don't just have gated communities, next we'll have a gated city!!!

dc5799 writes:

Camera's don't work as they were supposed to. Another fiasco. This Island is a joke,every other city is cutting back. not our Fat Cats.

smiley writes:

Living on Marco is much like owning a boat. The two happiest days are the day you buy in and the day you sell out. Fortunately, I'm out.

gosixpack writes:

I had been coming to Marco Island since 1988, and I bought my house in 2002 with the idea of retiring on Marco within 5 years. Ha! Within 3 years my property taxes more than doubled. Then the City tore up my lawn to hookup a sewer, wrecking my irrigation system that cost me $$$ to repair - not to mention the water bill when they left broken pipes squirting water all over the place. Then they sent me a bill for over $15,000 to pay for the sewer. Now they plan to raise taxes again, bill me for a fire assessment, and add more staff to do stuff I don't need. I had no idea the destructive powers of a hurricane pale in comparison to a city on a wild spending spree. By the way, those expensive street lights every 10 ft. on Collier make it look more like Disneyland than the Marco I loved in the 90's. As Bob Hope would say, thanks for the memories.

marcoobserver writes:

As was demonstrated in the last election, Resort Management and John Arceri control Marco Island. Areceri makes sure the resorts get reuse water and reduced water rates subsidized by the homeowners and Resort Management uses their block of thousands of condo votes to make sure Arecei's candidates get elected. We will take over LCEC and Arceri's candidates will reward the resorts with reduced electric rates just as he did with the subsidized water/sewer rates. Wake up. Arceri controls the council and Arceri and Resort Management will tax and spend the homeowners off the island to make it the Myrtle Beach they all envision.

marcoredeagle writes:

The good citizens of Marco ... the article states:
“What’s different about Marco Island is that we are the only city with a spending cap” in its charter, city financial director Bill Harrison said. .... “The spending cap constantly limits growth. It has kept this a lean government... This spending cap prohibits the city from setting tax rates that vary greatly from one year to the next, Harrison said. “In a normal city when things are booming they can raise taxes,” Harrison added."

I am not happy with Bill Harrison. Is he lying or mistating the facts? You make the call. Marco Island has been running up expenses in the good years. They HAVE spent in the BOOM years. He is the financial person and doesn't realize this?

How did Marco Island Gen Fund Budget go from $10 Million in 2006 (approx), $15 Million in 2007 and estimated to be $18 Million in 2008. (From bill@themousepad.net)

My Collier County real estate taxes have doubled in the last 5 years. It is not defendable that he claims the city didn't raise my taxes in the boom years.

lauralbi1 writes:

Well, there you have it ladies and gentlemen. You have heard from (blogs above) all the voters who voted for the losing slate in the last election. Even Mr. Davies, the Campaign Manager, who left as soon as it became apparent that he was supporting a losing cause. I actually respect him for making the choice to leave instead of staying and being miserable. We only wish that some others would do the same. And yes, we, the majority, agree with what they basically are saying. We support the Council on doing what must be done to move our City forward and do what must be done to create a family oriented, progressive, modern, technically up to date, environment for the majority to live in. The next election will yield the same results, as the machine is still in place to get the message out and voters to vote. A close to 70% majority, with the highest voter turnout, speaks for what the City really wants.
Ed Issler

marcoobserver writes:

Issler, will you stop misrepresenting the facts. As was demonstrated by an earlier blog the vote was 60/40. The condos voted the Arceri/Resort Management candidates to protect their preferred water rates and their exclusive use of reuse water. The single family homeowners voted for the other slate.

Avenger writes:

I’ve asked Issler this at least twice before, and still no answer. So let me ask again, Issler, how do you calculate that “close to 70% majority?” As Observer says, it’s really 60%; 60.389% if one takes it to the thousandths place. But keep on spouting your fake figures because you completely shot any credibility you had long ago, and this just reinforces your lack of honesty.

dc5799 writes:

Issler,
Get a life and please, please, please get your fact's and figure's right. That 70% majority is really getting old.

lauralbi1 writes:

Okay guys, 60%. Sorry, but it's still a landslide by definition. If you think that 60% or 70% makes a difference in the point, then so be it. 3300 votes for your candidates and over 6,000 for the winners. However that works out, live with it. The point is that the Council is acting for the majoiryt who elected them. That is not to say that you cannot have opposing opinions. Just keep in mind that they are voting for the majority.
Ed Issler

Fossil writes:

Issler, to keep it simple, that works out to a little less than 2 to 1 not the 3 to 1 you keep trying to convince us happened. The majority also voted to reduce expenditures and taxes as the Governor proposed. So how is the Council acting for the majority who elected them? This article is all about increasing taxes, imposing new assessments, increasing expenditures and increasing the City's employment ceiling. Seems to me the Council is not doing as the voters who elected them asked. Stay on point and stop spinning.

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