Marco Island approves highest tax rate in history, delays fire assessment

Larry Magel, a retired Marco resident who volunteered to team up with Chairman Bill Trotter to create a productivity report for the City of Marco Island, looks on as City Council decides to put City Manager Steve Thompson back in a sole-responsibility role for hiring five new employees in 2009 without such an investigative report.

Photo by KELLY FARRELL, Staff // Buy this photo

Larry Magel, a retired Marco resident who volunteered to team up with Chairman Bill Trotter to create a productivity report for the City of Marco Island, looks on as City Council decides to put City Manager Steve Thompson back in a sole-responsibility role for hiring five new employees in 2009 without such an investigative report.

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Larry Magel, a retired Marco resident who volunteered to team up with Chairman Bill Trotter to create a productivity report for the City of Marco Island, looks on as City Council decides to put City Manager Steve Thompson back in a sole-responsibility role for hiring five new employees in 2009 without such an investigative report.

Photo by KELLY FARRELL, Staff // Buy this photo

Larry Magel, a retired Marco resident who volunteered to team up with Chairman Bill Trotter to create a productivity report for the City of Marco Island, looks on as City Council decides to put City Manager Steve Thompson back in a sole-responsibility role for hiring five new employees in 2009 without such an investigative report.

Hurricane Ike's five-day forecast released at 5 p.m. Thursday by the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

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Hurricane Ike's five-day forecast released at 5 p.m. Thursday by the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

— While many residents expressed discontent with a tax hike others said it could be worse.

Marco Island City Councilmen received at least 1,600 e-mails requesting taxes not be raised, however many taxpayers present at Tuesday evening’s City Council meeting said property taxes were preferable to new fees such as the fire assessment.

City Council seemed to be listening as they deferred a decision on the fire assessment and set the property tax rate at $1.454 per $1,000 of taxable property value, up from $1.2833 last year.

"This council is now responsible for the largest tax increase in the history of Marco Island. I don’t think the one person who said to Council please don’t take this arm, take this one, should trump the 1,600 other people who sent e-mails requesting a lowering of the tax rate," said Marco resident Bill McMullen.

At a prior meeting on the issue, Fay Biles, president of the Marco Island Taxpayers Association, a nonprofit watchdog of city spending, said she would prefer a tax increase over a new fire assessment. Biles said she opposed the fire assessment because it could not be deducted on federal income taxes and she believed the method used to calculate the assessment was inaccurate.

GSG, the consulting firm hired to calculate the fire assessment for Marco Island’s Fire Rescue District reported that 91 percent of the district was used to provide fire service. The other nine percent could not be paid for through an assessment because it was used to provide EMS service, which the state legislature determined cannot be funded by assessments.

Biles said that more than 9 percent of the calls to the fire rescue district were medical calls.

Residents’ arguments appeared to persuade many City Councilors to vote differently than they had in past meetings on the issue. Also, attorney Crystalyn R. Carey of Nabors, Giblin and Nickerson Attorneys at Law, the firm representing GSG, said the fee could be set at any time. If council did not set an assessment at this City Council meeting, the bill could not be put on the property tax bills this fall but could be sent out separately by the city at any time.

"There is a lower collection rate when that happens. No more than 75 percent pay it because there are people who won’t recognize it as a tax bill. It’s just a different method, higher cost with a lower collection rate," Carey said.

With that, Councilman Frank Recker moved to defer a decision on the fire assessment and council agreed 5-2. Councilmen Wayne Waldack and Chuck Kiester voted against deferring the fire assessment.

While the fire assessment caused much debate, little discussion preempted the council’s decision on setting the property tax rate. Council unanimously approved the highest possible rate of 1.454 mils or $1.45 per $1,000 of property value.

The increase allows for an approximate 12 percent increase in this year’s $91 million city budget. City Finance Director Bill Harrison said much of that increase is for capital projects including improvements to several of the island’s smaller, inland bridges.

"I probably stand alone when I ask you to spend a little more money," said resident Steve Stefanides.

Stefanides requested the city continue to fund swimming programs at the YMCA and added "it’s just a few dollars to pick up in a budget as big as ours."

This year city officials decreased funding to community events, such as the YMCA youth swimming lessons, by about $75,000. However the overall budget increased by about $10 million.

Regarding the 1,600 letters to the City Council regarding finding ways to cut the budget, Chairman Bill Trotter said: "We can’t infer that the e-mails from a set of the community is the opinion of all the islanders. We weigh all the input from our constituents."

Waldack said he would like to take another serious look at the language in the city’s charter which limits the city’s general fund spending from one year to the next by 3 percent plus a cost of living adjustment. The cap on spending does not effect capital improvements and construction projects.

"I would have approved a budget cut this year if a cut wouldn’t have an adverse effect on future budgets," Waldack said of the spending cap.

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

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Comments » 8

ejburger writes:

McMullan has the nerve to preach to our council about what is best for our island...what a joke. I hope the council doesn't listen to a word he says.

hourigan82247 writes:

Life would be so much easier if we could just have our pension and social security checks directly deposited into the city's account.

esplanade2 writes:

Where is the outcry concerning the never ending
theft of our money from the council?
Is Bill McMullan the only cry in the wilderness?

multi_million_heir writes:

i wonder how many emails they got asking them to please raise taxes? it must have been a lot to be able to infer that is what the residents truly wanted over fiscal responsibility.

waterday writes:

Our current council is a joke and to think that educated condo dwellers put these people into office. Perhaps all the condo dwellers will now start to listen and elect responsible council. we are all getting drained dry and this is a down economoy, I bet we are the only community in the entire United States that has let their elected council raise taxes in this horrible economy. Families are losing homes, and jobs and yes this is happening on Marco. Fiscal Responsibility needs learned by our City Staff and our council.

27_Year_Resident writes:

Our city council did a great job and this article is very misleading. They made the tough decisions and did the right thing by a unanomous 7-0 vote none the less. If we want services in our city we have to pay for them, fire, rescue, police, recreation, etc. I thought the council’s decisions against the fire assessment and for the tax hike were the right ones. We can't expect to get services and not pay for them.
As for McMullan’s imaginary 1600 emails, these are the same vocal minority that signed the emails in protest against the STRP and for the recall. The silent majority put the current council in place with over 5000 votes each. Ms. Farrell, I would do a little research and check the validity of these emails, if they even exist.
It was Fay Biles, on behalf of MITA, formally requested the highest tax rate, not just one citizen as McMullan claims; he is an expert at spreading misinformation! It was evident that the council showed their dismay for McMullan’s nonsense, too bad the press didn't pick up on that!

My advice to the bloggers above...move to Sun City because Marco Island is not, and never will be a retirement community!

sunnycity writes:

This whole cityhood thing is really getting expensive. Taking over the water service, sewer, and now the electric system is causing us to have the largest city government with the smallest population. And when the police and fire service went union it is a sure bet that the future tax rate will only skyrocket.

paradise10 writes:

27_Year_Resident - a correction in your response here; City council did not decide against the fire assessment, they only postponed it.
Everyone is talking about the loss of revenue, but nobody mentioned the excess revenue that the City was collecting during the years when property values were sky high. The revenue surplus during those years could not be spent because of the 3% spending cap. Where is all that money?

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