MARCO ISLAND — Wednesday afternoon, the Marco Island City Council Budget Sub-Committee held another meeting, slowly sifting through the myriad of expenditures, and various revenue sources, that all add up to the city’s $20 million-plus annual budget. Three of the city councilors, committee chairman Larry Magel, and councilmen Bill Trotter, and Wayne Waldack, are preparing recommendations for the entire council, balancing the goals of preserving city services and keeping residents’ tax bite from biting harder.
Unlike previous committee meetings, Wednesday’s gathering played to a packed house in the first floor conference room at City Hall, with only a few spectator seats unfilled. Apart from civic activists Amadeo Petricca and Fay Biles, most attendees were city employees and department heads, on hand to answer questions about their pieces of the budget pie.
The rain that held off for the Fourth of July dripped down outside. At one point, thunder boomed, and a voice from the gallery observed “God is trying to tell us something.” What the committee wanted city staff to tell them, said Trotter, boiled down to pluses and minuses.
“What expenses can we take out – what revenue can we add? The bottom line is, we don’t need a rate increase.” Once again, Trotter made the point that “push has come to shove. What do we really need – period.”
What the city’s Utilities Advisory Board needs, said member Petricca, is another member, so they have a quorum to make decisions. City Council has been unable to agree on a choice to fill a vacancy on the UAB.
After a review of general fund and capital improvement projects to finalize recommendations for the entire council, much of Wednesday’s session was taken up by discussion of the Master Action List. This 48-item document, covering all city departments, covered a broad range of expense items, from overtime and compensatory time policy for employees, to legal fees and mowing of lawns at city parks and ballfields.
Even the cost for washing city vehicles, and ways to reduce it, came under the committee’s scrutiny. One item left pending was a detailed analysis of building and operating costs for the proposed new community center at Mackle Park.
Communications devices, including cell phones and Blackberries for city employees, and walkie-talkies for police and fire-rescue personnel, got a thorough review, led by police captain Dave Baer. Of 63 emergency radios, said Baer, 17 are unsafe, and many more are old enough to be unserviceable, and no longer supported by the manufacturer.
“We’re spending $9,000 a year to repair them, and cannibalizing the old ones,” said Baer, recommending new, compatible equipment at a cost of $52,000.
Speaking of police, the meeting paused when City Manager Jim Riviere introduced Police Chief Thom Carr, who announced his retirement after 12 years on the force, starting as a patrolman as one of the original department employees. The assembled group gave him a round of applause, and many gathered around when a break was called to offer their congratulations.
At one point, Magel asked Riviere for two numbers: A budget recommendation from staff, and another with an additional six percent cut out.
“That’s not right. They can’t speculate that,” said Riviere. “Not in terms of one truck, two cars. This is a massive undertaking.
“It would be real nice if there were some budgeting objectives, so people could rally round,” as opposed to just a demand for cuts, he said.
“Ultimately, council is going to pick a number,” said Trotter.
At the meeting’s end, Magel was at pains to point out that give and take is expected, and no one was losing his temper in the process.
“You are seeing a city operate the way a city should,” he said. “We’re trying to keep cost at a bare minimum, while keeping city services at an acceptable level.”
“With six percent less, or three percent less, you’re going to have to give something up,” added Trotter. With more work still to do, the committee scheduled an additional meeting for 9 a.m., July 27.