Guest Commentary: The truth about the charters spending cap

The Charter Review Committee will be looking at the charter very carefully. They and everyone need to know the history of the charter.

The first charter was written in 1993 (I have a copy if anyone wants to see it). Thereafter, five times over 12 years incorporation was attempted and failed. The sixth time incorporation won by a slim margin of 180 votes because a spending cap was included in the charter.

The charter was based on one recommended by the National League of Cities, called “Model City Charter.” The drafters made a few changes in order to improve the attractiveness of cityhood to the many voters who opposed incorporation. The drafters were Harry Cowin, Frank Blanchard, Walter Donovan, Tom Shea, Joseph Christy, and Richard Nelson.

The primary argument against cityhood was it meant another layer of government with all the extra costs with that new layer. Most everyone was equally concerned that if something were not done to gain local control over zoning, Marco Island would become overdeveloped much like the East Coast of Florida. But higher costs was a major reason for failure five times.

The drafters’ purpose was to try to nullify that argument by controlling the spending of any new city government. They figured that all spending is either operating expenses or capital expenses. Operating expenses are salaries, utilities bills and gasoline for automobiles, buildings, water companies. They included a three percent cap plus C.O.L.A. on each year’s operating expenses so that the basic cost of operating the city would rise no more than that over the previous year. They never intended that emergency capital expenditures be included in operating expenses and thus under the three percent.

Capital spending was to be controlled by Article VI, Section 6.01, which provides that 10 percent of registered voters can demand a referendum to overturn capital expenditures of more than $250,000. (The Charter lists “ordinances” and not resolutions.)

The drafters were trying to control the increase in property taxes, utility taxes, taxes on business and other costs generated by government that would affect the pockets of voters.

Their objective was always to be faithful to those voters who were concerned that unnecessary spending by the City Council would forces those voters to leave the Island because of higher costs and taxes. Their intentions were so right on. City Council with help of Bill Moss changed operating expenditures to “budget to budget.” They added emergencies as being exempt, and exempted self-supporting programs, called “enterprise programs.”

The City of Marco Island is unique in Florida for being wise enough to add a spending cap to their charter. Other cities have called wanting advice on how to add one.

The Florida State Legislature approved the Marco Island Charter when they approved incorporation of Marco Island in 1997. These comments were taken from a letter written by the drafters in December, 2002. An important thing to remember is that any change to the City Charter can be done only by a referendum. The message for one past attempt to eliminate the Spending CAP was based on not giving City Council a “blank check” for spending.

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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