MARCO ISLAND — It's the last City Council meeting for member Ted Forcht and Chairman Rob Popoff, who were thanked by the public through verbal appreciation by resident Bill McMullan and applause by a packed audience.
Douglass recalled when Forcht learned he lost the election after a recount by less than 10 votes and she appreciated how well he handled it when he said the voters chose great candidates.
She recalled his reply: '"Congress made me an officer and my mother made me a gentleman.'"
Many people noted that among the losses during future council meetings will be his witty, often tongue-in-cheek remarks.
Loss of ducks from park
During community forum, two Marco residents said they were concerned about what happened to the ducks at Mackle Park that were removed by contractors hired by the city. City Manager Steve Thompson said of the 12 ducks removed, several were euthanized and several are alive.
Parks and Recreation Director Bryan Milk said it cost $40 per duck to remove them and the decision to do so was based on their droppings as well as their aggressiveness.
Chairman thanks community members and organizations through proclamations
April 10 was recently proclaimed Realtor open house week throughout the state and the council thanked and proclaimed it so for the Marco Island Area Association of Realtors.
"After four years I want to give away several proclamations," Popoff said.
The Marco YMCA, Collier County Foreclosure Task Force and Marco Island Historical Society were also thanked through proclamations. The YMCA gained 4,000 members, the Foreclosure Task Force, including attorney Pat Neale and others did pro bono work to help many people in the housing crunch and the MIHS raised $4.4 million since 2003 for the new Marco Island Historical Museum on Heathwood Drive.
Popoff also thanked the (Collier) County Commission for their support of the museum.
MIHS President Craig Woodward was given a key to the city. Former City Councilwoman Terri DiSciullo was also given a key to the city for her continued leadership in community endeavors to support youth, parks and families, as well as other city endeavors.
Restaurant parking relaxed for two years
Council approved (5-2 with Councilmen Ted Forcht and Wayne Waldack voting "no") to relax restaurant parking and seating requirements for those restaurants located in buildings or plazas smaller than 16,000 square feet.
The ordinance approved by council on first reading will require those restaurants to supply one parking space per 200 square feet. This is less strict than the current ordinance which requires such restaurants to provide one parking space for every four seats. The less restrictive rules will allow restaurants in many cases to get their state liquor licenses because the state requires the restaurants to have 150 seats to get the annual license.
It also will allow additional outside seating, which Brien Spina of Capt. Brien's, says is an attraction to many visitors.
Maria Schilke opposed the change because she believes it will infringe on businesses near restaurants, including Marco Island Rental Properties, which she owns and operates in the Sand Dollar Plaza.
The ordinance will allow owners and operators to add as many seats as they desire as long as they stay within fire code requirements.
Utility rate increases
Council approved a 9.5 percent average utility rate increase in October 2009 and another 10.5 percent increase is being considered to be effective October 2010. Council will also consider a 6.5 percent increase in October 2011 and 1.5 percent increases the next two years.
The cumulative increases are to support the city's bond ratings and bond issue also on the council agenda this evening, Thompson said.
This expresses the intent of council and each increase will be voted again in their respective fiscal years, he added.
Ken Honecker, a member of the utility advisory committee, said the real commitment is in the first two years for the bond. "I recommend you move forward... They always use the word rate, but the key is we need to increase revenue by that percentage in order to meet the bond operations."
"We will make sure when we come back with a new rate structure that it will help cover this," Honecker added.
McMullan wasn't pleased with the phrasing of "at least" 1.5 percent. "How can council write themselves a blank check?" he asked.
Utility Advisory Board member Amadeo Petricca also recommended moving forward with the increases. "They won't be across the board (increases) to every user," he said.
Council removed the "at least" phrase before the increases as written in the ordinance and then approved the increases unanimously (7-0).
Kiester didn't want to approve because he didn't approve the projects that caused the debt, but said "this is a democracy. We need to pay our debts."
Council is considering voting on two bonds, one 2010A bond not to exceed the amount of $55 million and another 2010B tax exempt bond not to exceed $10 million. The projects being paid for include primarily projects related to the Septic Tank Replacement Program, the Judge S.S. Jolley Bridge utilities, waste water plant expansion, odor control and several others.
Bonds will be sold as a public offering. Bank of America Merrill Lynch and RBC Capital Markets are the underwriters.
The cost to issue the bonds is about $736,000, Thompson said. Insurance may cost more than $600,000.
The utility's bond rating is A- with Moody's Investors Service, the firm reported earlier in February.
"The city has a AA rating. The utility has a single A rating," Finance Director Patricia Bliss said. Upon request of council, Bliss said the city is in no significant financial risk.
Thompson said if the city was becoming financially unstable, the state would not allow the city to go bankrupt. He added that if there was a problem, the state might need to increase taxes.
Petricca said by bonding, the residents will need to pay surcharges for even longer and he said he was frustrated trying to get the information on how much longer the utility surcharges needed to remain to pay for the road resurfacing and wastewater treatment plant upgrades.
Thompson said it hasn't been a priority at this time.
Petricca said he would volunteer to do it free of charge.
"Thank you," Thompson said.
Resident Joe Granda agreed with Petricca's frustration.
"We don't have any problems accounting for the revenue or the expenses other than we haven't been able to satisfy the request to separate them out by (sewer) district," Thompson said.
"The roads need to be repaired faster than the income comes in (from the STRP)," he added.
Utility Director Rony Joel said the expense was incurred well before the revenue stream came. The 6 percent and 8 percent surcharges are needed to help repay the bonds, he added.
Forcht said that wasn't his understanding. He thought the "Popoff compromise" was to use the surcharge to pay as they went on resurfacing and the upgrades.
"We tried to do the right thing," Popoff said.
Council approved issuing the bonds (7-0).
Bliss said advertisements will be in the paper on how to purchase the taxable and tax exempt bonds secured by the utility.
Bonds for Lamplighter and Sheffield sewer districts
Petricca said he did analysis on the Lamplighter and Sheffield sewer districts demonstrating that the amount of people paying up-front and annually would not be enough to pay off the annual debt service with an interest rate of 5.07 percent.
His figures provided to council indicate that the districts would be short about $100,000 annually in paying for their bonds for these two districts.
"To some degree that's accurate... but do properties sell faster? Those are assumptions," Thompson responded.
Bliss said with her estimates the only district that would come up short is South Barfield, which was added to the sewer system in one of the first years and the city adjusted the assessments since.
Council authorized (5-2 with Forcht and Kiester voting 'no') to award the loans, including $1.4 million for the Lamplighter District and $1.85 million for the Sheffield District, to Branch Banking and Trust (BB&T).
Marty Black of Kimley Horn and Associates presented the firm's findings that the approximate 250-acre area of Town Center fit the needs for the creation of a Community Redevelopment Administration.
One of the primary indicators is that the area lost assessed property values by about 30 percent, he said.
The report considered by council is the finding of necessity to create the CRA. Council approved it 6-1 with Forcht voting 'no.'
Code Board declines power to lower fines on properties not in compliance
Thompson said there are foreclosure properties out of compliance and if the Code Enforcement Board could mitigate those fines, the properties would become more attractive to prospective buyers to purchase the property and make the improvements.
Any hard costs to the city would not be able to be lowered, Thompson said.
Code Board Chairman Tarik Ayasun explained the cases the board is seeing that justify why the ability to lower fines in most cases would not work. He said the banks aren't acknowledging they own the property in most cases so there isn't anyone to negotiate with and hold responsible.
"We're not here to punish. We're here for compliance," Ayasun said.
The board doesn't want to be able to lower fines before compliance, he added. He said that comes from Thompson.
"The chair believes this change will ruin the intent of the original mitigation process," Ayasun said.
He opposed the appeal process coming to council and rather said Florida Statute allows for appeals to go to circuit court and that's where he believes appeals should go.
"I think the reason it was done was to take it away from any political process," Ayasun continued.
Further, he didn't think the code board attorney should be the same as the city attorney or from the same law firm, which is Weiss-Serota.
The perception of the same attorney defending the city being the one to advise the people judging the case is the problem, Ayasun said.
Vice Chairman Frank Recker asked Ayasun why he wouldn't want the discretionary authority to mitigate fines.
"It just continues to add time because the people who come before us aren't taking ownership anyway," he replied.
Ayasun said the current owners aren't coming to the board with the buyers present.
"We're not here to make money for the city... This is not an accounts receivable deal," Ayasun said.
"I supported this because I thought you all supported this. I don't want to waste everyone's time fighting our own code board," Recker said.
Code Board member Joe Granda said what he didn't like about the proposed ordinance was that it didn't come with enough assurance to the city that the city would get paid and the property would be brought quickly into compliance.
Granda was skeptical about where the information came from leading to the ordinance as written before council.
Alan Gabriel, the attorney from the law firm Weiss-Serota, which represents the city, said he represents the board, city council.
"We are the city," Recker said.
The Planning Board attorney Jon Shamres, also of Weiss-Serota, does give advice to both code officers and the board, Granda said.
Resident Charlie Vallmer said he lives next door to a property where mitigation before compliance may need to happen to protect the city and neighboring properties from a failing seawall.
"My property is eroding into the canal," he said. Nobody is going to deal with this unless they know they can take care of the problem, he said.
Most people won't fix it before they own it, he added.
He estimated that the property next to him comes with $275,000 in fees owed to the city, unpaid sewer assessments, a seawall that fell into the canal, a mortgage of $475,000 and an appraisal value of about $275,000. "Nobody would deal with this."
Marco resident Sal Sciarrino said he thinks the code board can mitigate fines when needed.
Carol Glassman of the Code Enforcement Board said "orphan properties" are the biggest problems. The properties no one will claim to own.
"We're not just talking about overgrown weeds here. We're talking about houses that have been half-constructed and just left," said Glassman.
Recker moved to table; Popoff seconded. Recker and Gibson joked to let incoming council members Joe Batte and Larry Magel work on it.
The issue was tabled 7-0.
Seawall failure and repair regulations
Council is considering an ordinance which defines a failed seawall and allows a wall to be repaired by putting a vinyl seawall waterward of an existing seawall.
Don Ricci, owner of Marco Marine Construction, a seawall contractor, recommended council wait to approve the ordinance on second reading until there was more input from the marine industry because the ordinance also adds a new inspection of the quality of the concrete that the contractor uses on residential properties.
Public Works Director Rony Joel said if the lower quality concrete is used then a seawall's life expectancy could go from 40 years to 10 years. He added that the requirement was always there but it wasn't well-defined.
Recker said it would ultimately cost the homeowner more.
"Have you seen other contractors violate these standards?" Recker asked of the contractor.
"Yes...," Ricci replied.
Joel added the problem is if the weaker cement is used in the seawall then it doesn't appear for years.
Ricci said the concrete testing provision of the ordinance before council costs about $1000 more for a seawall and Joel estimated about $500 more per seawall for the protection of the quality of homeowners' seawall concrete.
"I'd rather protect the consumer," Gibson said.
The ordinance will come back for second reading before becoming law on March 15. Council unanimously approved it (7-0).
Trotter thanked Forcht and Popoff for their service. Trotter requested a look at code mitigation again as a future agenda item after the Code Board and staff have worked on it.
Gibson gave kudos to the Marco Island Police Department for finding the woman who went into the canal.
Waldack said the last two years with Forcht and Popoff felt like one.
Forcht said vermin are being reported in abandoned properties and spreading; he suggested something be done from code enforcement.
"It's been a great four years... I hope some day if the political bug ever bites me again I can serve with people as high-minded like yourself," Forcht said to his peers on council.
Popoff said he felt the community has come a long way to bring "honor, decorum and dignity" back. "Goodbye and thank you all very much." He said the video by Lisa Douglass brought a tear to his eye.