MARCO ISLAND — About 100 people packed into the Marco Island community room to let City Council know Monday night whether they preferred to have residents or vacant property owners bear more of the burden of anticipated utility cost increases.
As Marco resident Pat Santiago put it, for the most part "it was all about me." Residents didn't want another utility rate hike after two consecutive years of approximate10 percent increases. They were facing another 6 percent increase effective October 1. Undeveloped lot owners were facing water and sewer assessments that combined in amounts exceeding $10,000 in many cases.
Council chose to put both sides at ease-- at least for now.
"I find these two ordinances to be repugnant and move to table," said Councilman Frank Recker of the vacant lot assessments.
Later, council also chose to delay any decision on the 6 percent utility rate hike, saying if there's a hike at all, it would not need to be that high due to a combination of refinancing and budget cuts.
The prospect of assessments could come back at any time if any of the councilmen who approved tabling the issue, which councilmen Chuck Kiester and Bill Trotter did not, decide to bring it back up for vote or discussion.
Meanwhile, city staff was directed to come back with a lower or zero rate hike proposal. If there is an increase, it will have to come after October to provide proper notice, said Finance Director Patricia Bliss.
The standing-room-only crowd swiftly left the meeting when they learned council was tabling the hot-button issue of assessments on vacant lots.
Andy Rimes was among the undeveloped lot owners who making his way to his car when he learned there would be not assessments as of Monday night.
"It's great," Rimes said. "Let's be fair. Let's not single out the lot owners. Let's spread it out if that's what we've got to do," he said.
Trotter indicated he didn't think spreading it out would be necessary either. "Cancel the 6 percent. It's never going to happen anyway.
"Do we want to make any increases until we redo the rate structure," he asked rhetorically regarding another ongoing utility adjustment.
"Why stir people up before we've thought this through," he said.
All seven council members agreed.