NAPLES — Veterans won a battle with Marco Island City Council to get a small scale memorial.
Despite reluctance, City Council members eventually surrendered to veterans’ requests for $60,000 to build a memorial that is considerably scaled down from initial plans at the new Veterans’ Community Park.
The memorial was to be much larger and more elaborate costing $1.2 million, but acknowledging budget constraints and wanting to get something short term into the near-empty park on Elkcam Circle, veterans and their supporters worked to cut the project down to about one-tenth the initial plan.
“It’s really hard to turn down veterans,” acknowledged Chairman Frank Recker.
Even some of the most vocal opponents to city government spending spoke up to urge support for the project.
“I always beat you down on taxes ... find $60,000,” resident and city watchdog Bill McMullan urged of council on Monday night. McMullan disclosed that being a Vietnam veteran contributed in-part to his stance.
Residents Jay Santiago and Ken Honecker, who similarly urge fiscal conservatism, supported the project.
“They deserve the best. They don’t have to beg for $60,000. It’s just a token of appreciation,” said Santiago.
Lee Rubenstien of Marco’s VFW Post 6370 worked side-by-side with Parks and Recreation Director Bryan Milk to develop a scaled-back approach. Resident Steve Stefanides stood at their side, leading a considerable debate with council.
“This makes me almost ill that we can’t get through the first meeting after adopting the budget without looking at additional expenses,” said Councilman Chuck Kiester, adding that he too was a veteran.
Councilman Bill Trotter questioned whether approving the expense before seeking matching grants would hinder the potential of securing off-island contributions.
“This is about men and women who didn’t question whether it was the right time or the wrong time ... whether somebody would come in behind them to do the job,” Stefanides answered.
Council, in a 4-2 vote, with Kiester and Trotter dissenting, approved the expense.
VFW Post 6370 will be responsible for contributing the rest of the money needed to build the scaled-back version of the memorial and is to return as much money to the city as possible, Milk said.
“I think this design is all of $120,000. Some contractor may choose to contribute. That’s the beauty of it,” said Milk.
This first phase of the memorial is to have a 60-foot radius with pavers, all five service branch flags and a walkway around the perimeter, said Milk. The memorial includes a centrally located star with the five prongs representing the five military branches. Individual memorial pavers will be sold to contribute to the project as well.
The goal is to complete phase 1 by next fall and a request for construction bids is the next step.
“What we want to do is get the essence of the memorial out there so they (veterans) can hold ceremonies,” said Milk.