MARCO ISLAND — Councilman Chuck Kiester hosted at least his second public forum of the year Thursday evening in the council chamber, to familiarize his constituents with the proposed amendments to the city charter. These changes will be presented to Marco voters in a referendum in January, and one conclusion was clear – the details of Charter Amendment F, the spending cap, are not easy to follow.
The 40 or so attendees at the forum were the usual suspects, the political junkies, who follow the issues, populate the city’s advisory boards and come to all the meetings. Even in this group, confusion over Amendment F, the Operating Expenditure Limitation [Modified Spending Cap] was rampant.
Kiester deferred explaining the specifics to civic activist Amadeo Petricca, who tried to defer to Councilman Frank Recker, who gave it back to Petricca.
Essentially, the measure allows future councils to base annual expenditures on spending from 2008, plus three percent annual increase and cost of living allowance.
While attendees were fuzzy on the details, they were clear on their verdict on the amendment.
“The spending cap? They ought to lower it down, keep it in place, whatever the technicalities,” said Mary Helen Masters.
“I want to leave it alone. We’re spending too much money, working on too many projects,” said Richard McInnis.
“They need to cut, cut, cut – just like the real world,” proclaimed Pat Santiago.
“Essentially, what this thing does is, whatever happens, they have the ability to spend what they spent in 2008,” said Russ Colombo. “I have one word for that, and I can’t use it here.”
City Manager Steve Thompson has clarified that financially, it wouldn’t matter if fiscal 2007, 2008 or 2009 was used as the base year. The amendment will allow council to go back to 2008 spending, which was about $18.5 million, and add 3 percent plus COLA to that figure for each year up to the year they are currently budgeting.
Though some have avoided the language, it is, in a sense, a recapture clause in case that city were to ever spend less than the spending cap allowed even after budget changes.
“They took 2008, a very unrealistic revenue generator” for a base period, said Robert Wenz. “With all the construction, we’re getting to be a cement jungle.”
Ray Paret urged cutting the city staff and their compensation. “Unless you attack wages or get rid of people who are superfluous, you can’t balance the budget,” he said.
The meeting also explored the other amendments, including term limits and compensation for council members, direct investigations by council into city staff, and requirements for large expenditures and budget deviations.
Kiester stressed the importance of reviewing a municipality’s governing documents.
“Every 10 years or so, a city should go back and look at all its ordinances, and throw out those that no longer apply,” he told the group.
Council incumbent and candidate Ted Forcht said that while Kiester reviewed the charter amendments he was “careful just to inform and not state an opinion on if he agreed with them or not.”
The issue of getting ticketed for parking in swales was discussed, with Kiester saying it seemed the police department had backed off a little bit on issuing citations.
Sayre Uhler expressed his dissatisfaction with disparities in water and sewer rates. “Every time I flush a toilet, it costs me five times more than my condo neighbor,” he said.
One couple harangued the meeting on their trouble getting a certificate of occupancy for their home, because of having a shell drive.
In addition to the proposed charter amendments, three open council seats, including those currently held by Chairman Rob Popoff, Kiester and Forcht, will be on the mail ballot in January.
On a table at the rear of the room, candidate petitions for Kiester, Forcht and newly-declared candidate Joe Batte were available for those who wished to sign them. Larry Magel, the only declared council candidate whose petitions were not on-hand at the forum, had been given the opportunity to have them displayed, said Kiester. Magel had questioned the propriety of using city resources for political campaigning.
“I was concerned initially, but once Alan Gabriel (an attorney from Weiss-Serota, which represents the city) said he wasn’t concerned, then I was no longer concerned. I was not there because I had another engagement. I had a conflict,” Magel said Friday afternoon.
Forcht did attend the forum.
“I wasn’t campaigning. I was listening to an informative presentation by my city councilman,” he said.
Forcht will campaign for additional petitions at an event held 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Monday at Chef’s Express.
Popoff dropped in early on Kiester’s forum, and Recker came by after Popoff left, causing Kiester to joke, “We almost had a quorum. We could pass anything we want.”
Check back to marconews.com and naplesnews.com, as well as the Friday edition of the Marco Eagle for more on newest announced City Council candidate Joe Batte as he vies for a seat for a third time.