MARCO ISLAND — The citizens of Marco Island can rest assured that when their city spends a dollar, serious consideration has gone into the expenditure.
All summer, the Marco Island City Council Budget Sub-Committee has been meeting at City Hall, going over the budget line by line, department by department, and dollar by dollar.
Friday, committee chairman Larry Magel, and Councilmen Bill Trotter and Wayne Waldack met once again with city staffers. The Budget Sub-Committee will make recommendations to the entire City Council on a proposed total budget and how to get there, and a lot of numbers have to be crunched in the process.
Even the meeting agenda items were difficult for a layperson to follow, with headings such as “Discuss analysis report on revenue and expense budget including future projections (comparing FY11 & FY12 for both general fund and utility).”
Friday’s meeting was scheduled for an all-day marathon, but mercifully ended after just three hours.
What makes it important for City of Marco Island taxpayers is that in the end, all the numbers, charts and analysis boil down to this – will your property taxes go up? Although the meetings are open to the public, the only members of the public to show up Friday were civic regulars Fay Biles and Amadeo Petricca. Biles is president of the Marco Island Taxpayers Association, and Petricca is chairman of the Utilities Advisory Board, so they are really insiders more than merely concerned citizens.
The question comes down to “need to have” versus “nice to have” items, in councilman and committee member Trotter’s phrase, and identifying and eliminating the latter. Much of the committee’s time was taken up by consideration of expenses such as replacing fire hydrants and seawalls.
The seawalls, particularly those behind the city’s water plant, were the subject of a lengthy discussion with acting utilities director Jeff Poteet. The budget has $200,000 for renovation and containment of the seawalls, but does not include additional cost for city staff to plan, spec and supervise the work. If the seawall in front of the city’s water tank should fail, it could lead to disastrous consequences for the island’s water supply.
“If we can solve the disaster scenario, then we can look at what we need to do for the other 1,000 feet,” said Trotter. “It’s nice to do it all at once, but we have ratepayers who don’t want a rate increase, at least not now.”
With city Finance Director Patricia Bliss away, much of the staff-side work on the budget fell to Budget Analyst Robert Lange.
“It’s perplexing, because we have revenue down from budget, from 27 to 26 million, but we have no decrease in usage,” noted Trotter at one point.
“Last year, revenue budgets were projected off that consultant’s report, and what we’re seeing now is the actual, versus what was let’s say an estimate by the consultant,” replied Lange. “That’s why you’re seeing a differential. I think it’s going to be about 700,000 short.” There was, he said, no “negative elasticity,” or wiggle room downwards in the numbers.
“When we talked to Patricia about that, she said we’re up now, but we’ll be down during the summer because of the rainy season,” said Magel.
“We have a disconnect between reality and what our budget was that nobody pointed out, and all of a sudden at the end of the year we’re $750,000 short, when usage hasn’t gone down at all,” said Trotter.
“Without meaning to offend anyone, it came from this committee to accept the consultant’s estimate,” said Lange. “I was told there’s already a study. That’s what everything is predicated on.”
“To Amadeo’s point, if volumes are down, then expenses should be down,” continued Trotter.
“It is what it is,” said Magel. “From my perspective, the data you (Lange) have is more accurate than the budget that we had.”
Lange told the committee he would provide them a breakdown between water and sewer revenues and expenditures.
“The only thing we can’t change during the year is the ad valorem rate,” said Trotter. He proposed breaking out the “city staff view of the world” and the “budget committee view of the world,” and putting the choice to the City Council.
With a special City Council meeting called for Aug. 1, the Budget Sub-Committee added another meeting set for 9 a.m., Wednesday. At that time, the committee will review the list of all budget changes recommended to the council, which was originally on the agenda for Friday’s meeting.