Story/BLOG: Special-called Marco budget meeting yields few changes

Millage rate, budget unchanged after emergency meeting

Article Highlights

  • Attendance was up with the hope of cuts, but none came
  • Attorney advised proper motion on balanced budget was not made at the previos meeting
  • Special-called meeting yields no changes to the budget or millage rate from Council's agreements at the previous meeting

— An emergency meeting was called to look at budget cuts and possibly the tax rate Friday morning because it was too important to wait, Chairman Rob Popoff had said.

City Manager Steve Thompson said early in the meeting Friday: “If we’re truly facing Armageddon and that’s the view of the council, then everything is on the table.”

After much debate, all possible changes were then off the table and the approximate $20 million general fund budget, and $89 million total budget, remained unchanged after the meeting.

Also, council had set the final millage rate at 1.6518 mils, or $1.65 per $1,000 of taxable property value, Monday, and that remained the same after the meeting Friday.

Marco’s ad valorem taxes increased 19 percent from last year, but down from preliminary rates of 1.85 mils and 1.75 mils discussed earlier this summer.

“The truth is you raised the budget over last year, didn’t you? Nobody has had the political guts (to say so),” said resident David Rasmussen. He added that reading and hearing that council is cutting anything is misleading.

With Monday’s tax rate decrease, council needed to cut about $420,000 from the proposed budget. As Rasmussen pointed out, even after cuts, the budget increased from last year by about 19 percent along with the ad valorem tax rate.

City Attorney Alan Gabriel said the tax rate couldn’t be changed without proper public notice of the meeting and council had not made a proper motion and vote to approve a balanced budget Monday.

Thompson said the millage rate cannot be lowered. “In this case, final is final,” he said.

“We beat the heck out of a relatively small budget,” Vice Chairman Frank Recker said. He added that more time should be spent on the utility, which is the larger portion of the budget.

Councilmen Chuck Kiester and Popoff said they didn’t want any employees to lose their jobs.

Kiester proposed furloughs. “How many engineers, for example, do we really need if we’re cutting back big time on capital improvement projects?” he asked.

Popoff suggested closing City Hall on Friday afternoon once or twice a month. If closed once per month for half of a day, the city would save about $200,000 per year, he said.

“Most of the employees are blue collar, not the bureaucratic employees you think,” Thompson said.

Thompson said closing City Hall would have a service impact.

“I’m a little concerned about the rushed nature of this meeting,” said Councilman Bill Trotter.

Fire Chief Mike Murphy suggested that new oxygen equipment could be cut.

Councilman Wayne Waldack said he was shocked that council was considering “taking oxygen away from firefighters.”

Trotter said city staff should be challenged to propose cuts in their departments without bringing forward the most important thing and saying “Do you really want to cut this?”

“That anything we do is going to cut services is a red herring,” Trotter said.

“If we’re looking at creating a management challenge, then I need direction ... Also, what is the sacred ox? Tell me what you don’t want to lose,” Thompson said.

“Staffing wise, if there are extra bodies around here, I’d like to see them,” Recker said.

Recker said he didn’t want to cause panic.

“People are panicked enough about their finances as it is,” Popoff said.

“If council leaves the budget indeterminate then my direction to staff is that it’s frozen,” Thompson said.

“You can get an ultimatum from staff, ‘everything is in paralysis,’ I don’t think that’s the best approach,” Trotter replied.

Thompson suggested cutting six positions, including two police, two finance, one code enforcement and one at the teen center.

Council did not consider those cuts.

Thompson said having staff come back with specific cuts also kept the city in limbo.

“If it makes people nervous, so be it. It’s a nervous time,” Trotter said.

“You’re saying at the 11th hour that now we have to start this process ... Bricks and mortar aren’t going to start falling down,” Recker said.

“I was hoping you’d have more open discussion about some of the personnel issues,” said resident Bill McMullan, who said that delaying filling open positions and cutting consultants would yield significant savings.

Resident Larry Magel expressed disappointment that council didn’t look at recommendations made by the financial planning committee earlier in the budget process.

Marco Island Taxpayers’ Association President Fay Biles said “we must cut the millage rate.”

Resident Karen Glaub said people’s current economic challenges needed to be taken into serious account.

Sal Sciarinno: “If they can’t afford to live here, where are they going to go? East Naples, Isles of Capri where it’s more expensive?”

“The poor people. They can’t go anywhere else,” he added.

After some booing, arguing and laughing among the audience, decorum returned as resident Dick Shanahan shared his thoughts.

“The community thinks you haven’t been listening ... There is money out there and you know how to get it,” he said.

Council passed cuts of $420,000 and gave their general consensus that the cuts would come proportionally higher from operational costs, just as the direction was on Monday.

Resident Ken Honecker said: “It was a pointless meeting.”

Glaub said she didn’t understand why council wasn’t advised before the meeting that the millage rate couldn’t be decreased.

Council will look at staff’s proposals for mostly operational cuts in a workshop scheduled Oct. 19.

BLOG FROM MEETING LIVE FRIDAY MORNING

A special-called budget meeting held Friday morning was to look at additional cuts to Marco's budget, Chairman Rob Popoff had said. However after meeting for about three hours, the millage rate and budget that Council agreed upon Monday remained the same.

Council set what was to be the final millage rate at 1.6518 mils, or $1.65 per $1,000 of taxable property value, Monday.

The rate is a 19 percent increase from last year, but down from preliminary rates of 1.85 mils and 1.75 mils. With Monday's tax rate decrease, Council needed to cut about $420,000 from the budget. They agreed to temporarily take the money from capital improvement projects, but planned to review other potential places to cut later in October so that not all the cuts were in projects.

Popoff had said it was too important to wait and wanted to call the meeting to look at cuts Friday. Many residents said they were disappointed that the meeting didn't lead to more dramatic changes.

While Council talked for hours and more residents spoke at the special-called budget meeting than at some of the preliminary budget workshops and meetings, it was the City Attorney whose statements reflected the real action of the day.

City Attorney Alan Gabriel made two brief statements and the rest of the discussion became essentially inconsequential to the budget or tax rate. He said the tax rate couldn't be changed and Council had not made a proper motion and vote to approve a balanced budget Monday.

It wasn't until the meeting came to a close, hours later, that the audience would realize that all Council would really do is formalize the same vote they had taken about four days prior.

"I'm a little concerned about the rushed nature of this meeting," said Councilman Bill Trotter.

He said he hoped to cut operations and capital projects proportionally. "For us to have one day to look at the new plan... isn't doing justice," Trotter added.

The current plan before Council is about a 60/40 balance with most of the cuts being from capital projects. Trotter said he would prefer about 85 percent of cuts coming from operations because about 85 percent of the budget is operational.

City Manager Steve Thompson said early in the meeting Friday: "If we're truly facing Armageddon and that's the view of the Council, then everything is on the table."

Thompson said the millage rate cannot be lowered. "In this case, final is final,' he said of the rate set Monday.

Gabriel confirmed state law prohibits the Council from changing the ad valorem tax rate at this stage.

The reason for the prohibition is the meeting was not advertised in advance for such action.

The current general fund budget is about $20 million and the total budget is about $89 million.

"We beat the heck out of a relatively small budget," Vice Chairman Frank Recker said. He added that more time should be spent on the utility, the larger portion of the budget.

Councilmen Chuck Kiester and Popoff have repeated that nobody wants to see any employees lose their jobs.

Kiester proposed furloughs. "How many engineers, for example, do we really need if we're cutting back big time on capital improvement projects?" he asked.

Popoff suggested closing City Hall on Friday afternoon once or twice a month. If closed once per month for half of a day, the city would save about $200,000 per year, he said.

Thompson said most of the employees are blue collar, not the bureaucratic employees you think.

He added there are six positions he could strip right now. Thompson said closing City Hall would have a service impact.

Kiester said he's not looking to relieve employees of their positions. "I think of the building department for example because of the slow down." He added that employees might be delighted to have Friday afternoons off.

Trotter suggested budget amendments come in steps and not all be done Friday.

He also said city staff should be challenged to manage the city while Council oversees them and directors should bring forward proposed cuts in their departments without bringing forward the most important thing and saying "Do you really want to cut this?"

"Furloughs or layoffs should be the last thing we look at," Trotter said.

"That anything we do is going to cut services is a red herring," he added.

"If we're looking at creating a management challenge, then I need direction... Also, what is the sacred ox? Tell me what you don't want to lose," Thompson said.

"We have a level of service in this city that I don't think is excessive... I agree with everyone that we need to continue looking. Staffing wise, if there are extra bodies around here, I'd like to see them," Recker said.

Recker said he didn't think the panic was necessary.

"...We don't want to create panic within the staff. People are panicked enough about their finances as it is,' Popoff said.

"If Council leaves the budget indeterminate then my direction to staff is that it's frozen," Thompson said.

Thompson offered six positions, including two police, two finance, one code enforcement and one at the teen center.

Council is not considering those cuts.

"You can get an ultimatum from staff, 'everything is in paralysis,' I don't think that's the best approach," Trotter said.

He added that he does not like the approach that every time something needs to be cut, capital projects are cut. Trotter wanted to give direction to Thompson to suggest cuts, about 15 percent in capital projects and 85 percent of the cuts in operations.

Thompson said that still kept him and the city in limbo.

"If it makes people nervous, so be it. It's a nervous time," said Trotter.

"You're saying at the 11th hour that now we have to start this process... Bricks and mortar aren't going to start falling down," Recker said.

Trotter clarified that continuing to put off selecting the cuts or continuing to cut from projects for now means it just won't happen. He wanted to see a better process be put forth.

Thompson is "absolutely not" comfortable with the direction Council is coming up with, he said.

He added that delaying the Collier Boulevard project is not a concern because it has to be delayed until after the Judge S.S. Jolley Bridge construction anyway.

Trotter said he has been on Council five years and every year projects such as stormwater drainage are delayed.

Kiester said he can't take personnel completely out of the options for operational cuts because personnel costs are the largest expense in operating.

Trotter said keep police, fire and finance and there would still be opportunities for cuts.

"The truth is you raised the budget over last year, didn't you? Nobody has had the political guts...," said resident David Rasmussen.

Rasmussen said reading and hearing the Council is cutting is misleading.

Resident Bill McMullan said the city is increasing spending by 19 percent not including 9.5 percent increases in utilities.

"I was hoping you'd have more open discussion about some of the personnel issues," McMullan said.

For example, 25 consultants may need to be looked at, he added.

Resident Larry Magel expressed disappointment that Council took so long to seriously look at proposed cuts, despite several recommendations made by the financial planning committee much earlier in the process.

Marco Island Taxpayers' Association President Fay Biles had concerns about utility costs and said "we must cut the millage rate."

Resident Karen Glaub said "look at now, not five years from now." She understood Council taking a proactive approach, but people's current challenges needed to be taken into serious account.

Sal Sciarinno: "If they can't afford to live here, where are they going to go? East Naples, Isles of Capri where it's more expensive?"

Sciarrino caused some booing. "Maybe I am picking on some people, but I'm me..."

"The poor people. They can't go anywhere else," he added.

After some laughing and a little arguing, decorum returned as resident Dick Shanahan shared his thoughts.

"The community thinks you haven't been listening... There is money out there and you know how to get it," he said.

Linda McCune of the beautification committee and a member of MITA said it looks like bringing landscaping in-house would be about a $40,000 saving and she also was concerned about utility expenses.

"If we do that all anyone will look at is that we hired five employees," said Councilman Jerry Gibson of bringing landscaping in-house instead of contracting the service.

Council passed cuts of $420,000 as was discussed Monday, and with most coming from capital projects.

Although there were no budget changes since Monday, the meeting clarified a technicality. The Council must pass a balanced budget.

"Right now you don't have a balanced budget," Gabriel said. The Council's lowering of the preliminary tax rate Monday was set by vote, however, the vote of the budget to temporarily cut $420,000 was not made by a proper motion, he had advised.

Council gave direction for Thompson and staff to cut approximately 85 percent of the $420,000 decrease in the originally proposed budget from operations and about 15 percent from capital projects.

"The people in this community want to see meaningful cuts," Popoff said.

Resident Ken Honecker said: "It was a pointless meeting."

Resident Karen Glaub said she didn't understand why Council wasn't advised before the meeting that the millage rate couldn't be decreased.

McMullan suggested that with 10 open positions every month, delaying filling those positions would lead to up to $800,000 per year in savings and significant savings for each month the hiring was delayed. Those options should have been made available, McMullan said.

Council will look at staff's proposals for where the $420,000 cuts will come from in a workshop scheduled Oct. 19.

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Comments » 18

jwputnam writes:

I watched the entire fiasco. It appears to me that this was no more than a expensive charade to beef up support for the Popoff campaign. He knew that the millage rate could not be changed before he even called for the special meeting. His performance continues to insult my intelligence. He is a politician and NOT a manager. (Only Sal is more disagreeable to me....or maybe Waldack....so many to choose from.)

Is this the type of management you all want? Is it truly? The city needs a strong mayor.

PS I see that Lisa Douglass is still on the payroll for a cool hundred grand. That still says it all for me.

snk83#228688 writes:

What about across the board pay cuts for all city employees?

We have personally been living with a drastic pay cut and loss of pension for the past five years and have had to adjust.

August8 writes:

Well,
I'am not sure if what has been said above is factual, especially the salary of the spokes person, salary ranges and reductions should be the action prior to any consideration to dismiss employee's !
If one looks at the actions of other larger cities around the State these are the actions being taken to resolve short falls. Raises, salary reductions,cars,fuel, computers and daily operating costs, etc. All Departments should contribute equally and one particular enforcement agency should not be picked upon.
Residents should make demands but should not behave selfishly in order to save a few bucks. Emloyee's are expensive no doubt but more importantly they are by far the most important
asset the City has !!!!!! Be Fair!!!

dc5799 writes:

Poor old Sal,
He doesn't realize he is the poorest one of all. Every time he open's his mouth he is a joke.

snk83#228688 writes:

Across the board salary cuts for all city employees immediately. We have had to personally adjust to massive pay cuts for the past five years.

sailingalong writes:

It is symptomatic that this group of fools would have a meeting to change something they can't change. Why didn't Thompson tell Popoff that they couldn't accomplish anything with the meeting and save Popoff the embarrassment and us a waste of time?

ajm3s writes:

Who is Lisa Douglass?

OldMarcoMan writes:

Lisa Douglas is a thorn in John Putnams side and thats well worth what ever we are paying her.

happy6 writes:

oldmarco..you gotta' be kidding? she sings whatever song she has to....kinda like the kids singing praises to obama.

OldMarcoMan writes:

I'm sorry, I was confused, I thought that was her Job??

MrBreeze writes:

I may be wrong, I think I read it here that Lisa Douglas is the wife of another city employee?

As far as Popoff goes he is just trying to look like he is on the citizen's side and playing politican. What we need is a total overhaul of the City leadership. That starts with a council that is for and by the people of the island with no special interests driving decisions that every citizen has to brunt. I think that the island is very divided and has been since the last election and the STRP program. Marco Island is currently in a flux, the economic slow down has stoped the teardown and rebuild era that was of tha past 10 years. I see the island to continue to be very expensive for the "average" person to maintain a position here.

Dan_OHagen writes:

I lost your point MrBreeze…isn't it Popoff’s job to be on the side of the people? Last year he voted to lower the millage rate and did so again this year.

OldMarcoMan writes:

I don't understand you Breeze, Keister and Forcht Voted against raising Taxes AND the STRP for the last three years.
Do you not understand just three Councilmen are up for reelection?
Without those two you might as well change the Islands Name from Marco Island to MICA Island

deltarome writes:

I was at both meetings. I like how Popoff has tricked voters into believing he "lowered" the millage rate.
Popoff offered the "Lowered" rate of 1.6518 from the council's original 1.7 but that is still an increase from last year's 1.39 or from a revenue neutral 1.59 (millage raise is to offset reduced assessed valuations). City is still RAISING actual total taxes they collect from each home owner.
Council has no political will to hold the line or reduce city expenditures. They just want to Tax and Spend.
I say Can the Clunkers!

27_Year_Resident writes:

I was at the meeting also. You say Popoff "tricked" the voters Delta while I more accurately say "persuaded" council to go with the lower rate. Ask yourself what the millage rate would be if Rob hadn't fought for the lower rate. If it wasn't for his persistence and votes our millage rate would be 1.75 instead of 1.65. It's all perception, it's clear you don't like him, that's ok but at least give credit where it's due. As far as "canning the clunkers" as you say, you only need to can two because I have heard that Rob will not run again (don't blame him) to bad because in my opinion he's doing a great job and would get reelected easily.

deltarome writes:

27 year-
Council and the city together promoted the higher rate only to have council "lower tax rates" but forget the millage BS. The fact is that while the state and county were able to reduce taxes from last year, City of MI RAISED total taxes from each home, business and condo owner on the island.
While the city tried to look good by saying the millage rate is less on MI than in Goodland or Capri, since valuations are much lower there, the cost for each home owner is much less than a typical one on MI.
Since you have been a home owner for so many years, I assume you are paying artifically low taxes due to SOH. Those that are not protected under SOH are paying part of your taxes!
When you get ready to sell, the next buyer will be faced with the total high taxes and it will hurt their ability to purchase your house.
Think about it in the BIG picture.

27_Year_Resident writes:

I don't know where your get your information from Delta but my Collier County Taxes have increased by over $900 and my Marco Taxes have reduced by about $14.00 so what is all the complainng about? I keep feeling like I'm missing something here.

I'm begining to feel like this blog is a just a vehicle to bad mouth our council and a platform for misinformation.

MrBreeze writes:

Delta you hit right on the head. SOH residents are not to bothered by this, because of the SOH cap. Non SOH have always brunted MORE tax revenue even though the non resident uses far less of the services that they pay full tax on, and no SOH cap. When a new buyer looks at the taxes on your home for sale it is usually a deal breaker because the number is to high. This is what I mean by maintaining a "position" on Marco Island. As a reply to Old Marco man and Dan Ohagen, I feel Popoff has not been fully on the citizen"s side. I do not see a firm stand that is needed on this council to protect the citizen. The number on the millage rate is very small, not much of a reduction. What is needed is someone to stand up and say in these times we must cut costs and that has not happened. Marco Island is like a Country Club it comes with dues,and costs. I realized that going in but to me its worth it. I have paid high taxes for 7 years and this year I will be on SOH and on the other side of the fence so I will be a full time resident of the island and VOTER.

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