MARCO ISLAND — Many people have popped the big question to Councilman Chuck Kiester. The question many were asking him was whether he was running for re-election in 2010, he said.
Other questions at the open forum Kiester hosted in the Community Room Wednesday evening with residents related to what to do with the Collier County School District owned property near Tigertail Court, known as Tract K, the prospects of an on-Island high school, the city’s proposed bid at electric utility takeover, septic tank conversion to a cistern, the city charter review and city finances.
WILL KIESTER RUN for reelection?
The answer — yes. The main reason is to continue working toward his primary goal on Island, said the Councilman who is serving his third year, completing his first term.
“I seek to pursue my dream of what this Island can become. We should aim for self-sufficiency, maintain residents with a middle class income as well as others. I want to help grow year-round residency and year-round businesses,” Kiester said in an interview after the forum.
He envisions a future with little need to go over the bridge to get what Islanders want.
“That’s why I support a high school on Island,” he said.
In terms of social and economic diversity, Kiester likened it to an ecosystem.
“Diversity equals stability,” he said.
“We need the whole gamut. We need families. I want to pursue this. That’s the primary reason I made this decision to run for council again,” Kiester added.
He said he plans to continue practicing fiscal constraint, which was his primary reason for opposing the Island’s septic tank replacement program in the past.
“We’re a young city with a lot that needs to be fixed but we can’t do it all at the same time. We’ve bitten off more than we can chew. We need to finish what we’ve started, including the STRP, but we should take a step back on starting other new, big projects,” he said.
Kiester said the forum wasn’t just another opportunity for residents to hear him talk, but rather for him to have an opportunity to listen to residents.
Regarding the forensic audit of the Collier Boulevard project, two residents who serve on the audit committee shared the progress.
Amadeo Petricca said the audit is scheduled to begin Tuesday with no particular time frame to get it complete because compatibility of the auditors’ and city’s computers, as well as city staff cooperation in gathering data, may affect the time.
“We’re looking for the upmost cooperation from the city staff,” said Joe Batte, vice chair of the audit committee.
Kiester said he would like a public works review board because of the costly engineering projects in the public works department.
Resident Karen Glaub said she agreed because council doesn’t necessarily have the engineering background to know precisely what is needed and what is an extra.
Russ Colombo said he’s been bothered by the city’s recent requests for prioritization of city services when it comes to financial planning.
“The word ‘service’ bothers me. Here’s my gripe, anytime you form a government, that government has responsibilities. The number one is welfare of its citizens,” Colombo said.
Fire, police, health, water, sanitation, those are responsibilities and everything else is a service, he said.
Currently there is a committee meeting to recommend changes in the city charter. The charter sets forward the form of city government and the responsibilities of City Council and the city manager.
Kiester recommends a strong mayor. Glaub agreed.
“Maybe a mayor who has a four year term and handles public relations ... That way the city manager is doing just that, managing,” she said.
The city’s committee looking into the viability of taking over Lee County Electric Cooperative voted to disband in February. Several residents asked if this would be the end of the issue for a while.
“Given all the projects the city has going on, now is not the time to purchase an electric utility,” Kiester said.
Resident Sayre Uhler questioned why ideas that were so unpopular among residents were still pursued by council.
“These things seem to have a way of growing legs of their own,” Kiester said, shaking his head and smiling.
He added that he plans to pursue getting rid of the current 3.6 percent electric franchise fee in residents’ electric bills unless the pilot program, to put lines underground in the Barbados area of the Island, is to continue.
Resident Janet M. O’Connell said she was concerned her electric bill would go up when LCEC’s electricity provider became FP&L in 2010.
It won’t happen replied LCEC’s Key Account Executive Tricia Dorn.
TRACT K and an Island high school
Knowing it was a controversial topic, Kiester smiled after saying “Tract K” and added: “Oh boy. Will we get through this one?”
City Manager Steve Thompson led the way.
“We’re scheduling a Council meeting to talk about the city acquiring Tract K,” he said.
Tract K is an approximate 12-acre site with protected bald eagles and their nest in the center of the field making development of the School District-owned site challenging.
“I have mixed feeling at this point about the city’s purchase of the land. On the one hand, it’s a good time with low land values but at the same time the city doesn’t have a lot of extra money to throw around,” Kiester said.
Resident Vic Rinke said a purchase could protect the land for a future state of the art high school.
“Having a high school on the Island fits into my dream as a planner to have a diverse population base. Bring the middle income people back to the Island that we’re losing so that we can support year-round small businesses.”
Resident Robert Glaub didn’t say he was opposed to a high school somewhere on Island, but he did say it would never be on Tract K.
Jane Watt, a resident and lead proponent of the Island high school, said she would like to see Tract K preserved for school use but other sites and options are being considered for the high school.
SEPTIC tank conversion to cistern
Robert Glaub expressed skepticism in City Manager Steve Thompson’s initial estimate that converting a septic tank to a cistern that would hold rain water for lawn irrigation would cost a resident $2,500 to $5,000.
“The city is desperate for the money they get for the water,” Glaub said.
Thompson said the city does not have a stake in the issue but will assist residents if they are interested in applying for a grant, likely of about $500. He said 27 residents are needed to get a grant and show a potential water savings of 500,000 gallons a year.
John Putnam said he believed kits were available to convert the tanks for $2,500 and he thought it was unlikely to cost much more than that.
Contact the city for more information on participating in the grant program at 389-5000.