MARCO ISLAND — Two of Marco’s largest projects — the Smokehouse Bay Bridge and Veterans’ Community Park — hit the chopping block along with about 40 other items in the city budget, whose fate also rested in councilors’ hands Wednesday.
Council chose to delay the two largest projects, which account for $1.75 million in the 2010 budget, for one year.
Chairman Rob Popoff and Councilman Bill Trotter weren’t in favor of the delays.
“It’s like not wanting to go to the dentist … putting it off is only going to make it worse,” Popoff said.
Fay Biles, President of the Marco Island Taxpayers’ Association, a watchdog of city spending, said it was a great decision.
Veterans’ Community Park development will cost between $12 million and $26 million long-term, depending on the cost of a performing arts center there.
Some residents have questioned whether a new $14.6 million bridge at the Esplanade is needed now.
City Manager Steve Thompson said the end of the Smokehouse Bridge’s useful life is between 2012 and 2014.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean it will fall into the water. You could move it back, but in future years you will have more spikes in expenses,” Thompson said.
Monday, Finance Director Patricia Bliss plans to provide analysis of what the effect on city bonds will be with the delay.
Trotter’s concern was that the two projects affect the city’s goal of creating a community redevelopment area out of the Town Center, where both projects are located.
The CRA would allow projects to be paid for through loans based on projected increases in the area’s property values. It also allows the CRA to keep a higher portion of the property taxes paid in the area.
Another $400,000, approximately, was cut by canceling community room rewiring, council conference room construction, an automated agenda, a community survey, battery back-ups for street lights, portions of the Code Red emergency alert system and scanning software. Employee incentives were also decreased from $50,000 to $10,000.
Fourth of July fireworks, for $42,000, were cut.
A beach parking lot, $150,000 annually, was cut. The lot is near the new temporary beach access provided by the Marriott at the Crystal Shores timeshares. Councilman Jerry Gibson requested research into future parking fees to pay for the lease.
Landscaping services will not be brought in-house.
Council cut $250,000 for Racquet Center improvements, noting that Parks and Recreation Director Bryan Milk reported that the center has been operating in the red for several years.
The city will hire a safety guard to work on San Marco Road for $10,000 annually, or $10 per hour, to replace the position cut by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office this spring.
Friends of Canine Cove, which is raising $40,000 to construct dog runs at Mackle Park, will get a $25,000 loan from the Parks and Recreation contingency fund.
Instead of two new employees in the finance department at a cost of $167,310 annually, council decided to add the equivalent of 1.5 employees in 2010. By hiring one employee immediately and one in six months, the city saves about $44,000.
Taxpayers’ bottom line
Trotter suggested savings be put in reserves rather than a tax decrease and Councilman Frank Recker agreed.
Councilman Chuck Kiester suggested deep cuts to all items not funded by grants.
“Get rid of it—all of it,” he said.
“We’ll end up with a huge amount of money in reserves or be reducing the cap for future generations and councils,” Trotter replied.
Marco’s spending cap prevents the city from spending 3 percent plus COLA more than the year before. The city plans to spend about $500,000 under the cap for the second consecutive year— not including any of the recent cuts.
If the savings is given to the taxpayers, the city would be spending even further below the cap.
“I wouldn’t let the spending cap drive everything,” said resident Larry Magel, who serves on several ad hoc committees.
The city’s charter review committee is looking to amend the spending cap to allow for make-up during extenuating circumstances, such as the current economy, Magel added.
The millage rate could go down to 1.7 mils, or $1.70 per $1,000 of taxable property value, if the cuts from delaying the large projects are put in reserves and the $400,000 in other cuts are used to decrease taxes, Thompson said.
Currently the proposed tax rate is 1.75 mils, or $1.75 per $1,000 of taxable property value, which is a 25.5 percent tax rate increase from last year. The best way to estimate your city tax is to go to the Web site collierappraiser.com, look up your property’s taxable value and multiply it by .00175, or the proposed 1.75 mils. Links to property tax resources are also below this story.
Popoff said council will decide during budget hearings, scheduled Sept. 8 and Sept. 21, whether to beef up reserves or give taxpayers a break.