MARCO ISLAND — It’s why they make the big bucks. At the third of six meetings to review the city’s budget, each scheduled for three hours but likely to stretch to four or five hours, City Councilmen Larry Magel, Bill Trotter, and Wayne Waldack added a seventh meeting to make sure no stone is left unturned, and no dollar unstretched.
The three form the City Council Budget Sub-Committee, tasked to dig through the seemingly endless columns of revenues and expenses, and make recommendations to the entire City Council to allow that body to chart Marco Island’s financial course. Thursday’s meeting was tagged as “Bliss day,” with city finance director Patricia Bliss sitting opposite the councilmen at the table in the City Hall first floor conference room, to take them through a summary review of five-year capital improvement projects.
Next to Bliss sat City Manager Jim Riviere, and budget analyst Robert Lange, with the audience almost exclusively made up of city employees, who were sometimes called on to clear up details on programs in their departments. The councilors questioned the staff on whether, and in what circumstances, funds could be shifted from one area to another.
Bliss explained that some revenue, such as impact fees, can only be spent on growth-related items.
“So I’ve got $200,000 in police forfeitures. Can I use that for new computers in police cars?” asked Magel. Only for additional units, not replacement items, replied Bliss.
“Can I take $12,000 from the farmers’ market and put it in the Racquet Center?” asked Magel, chairman of the sub-committee. Almost simultaneously, Bliss answered “yes” and Riviere answered “no.” In general, though, the meeting was a low-key, information-gathering session, and produced few fireworks.
Fireworks did come up, though, when Riviere pointed out that the Fourth of July fireworks display, a $40,000 total expense, before contributions mostly from businesses, was $2,000 in the hole, and would cost the City $12,000 from the Parks and Recreation budget.
“I hope this is the last year we do it,” said Riviere, referring to the solicitations. “I don’t want to see regulators asking for donations from the regulatees.”
“We’re facing another difficult year,” Magel said of the budget situation as a whole, with tax revenues continuing to fall. “Patricia has a list of what our revenue sources are.”
How cities or municipalities choose to raise revenue comes down to a difference in philosophies, said Bliss.
“Marco Island wants to do everything on property taxes,” she said, and used Miami Gardens on the east coast as an example of the opposite approach. “Miami Gardens charges franchise fees on electricity, water, LP gas, cable TV, everything – all added on to user fee bills. These are fees we don’t use.” Occupational licenses, other than for beach vendors, is another area where Marco Island could, but does not, derive revenue from, she said.
With local option gasoline taxes, on the other hand, which currently generate just under $1 million for the city, “we are currently at the highest rate” allowed by state law, she said.
“It seems to me, we have to manage the city to the 8.5 percent property tax reduction,” said Trotter, cutting the budget to reflect the dropoff in revenue. Magel said that any capital projects that could be deferred, should be.
“We have $8.5 million for ’12, and $7 million for ’13 (in budgeted capital expenditures). Which of those could be deferred? What about seawall replacement – could it wait a year?”
Jeffrey Poteet, general manager of the water and sewer department, and public works director Timothy Pinter said they are going through the process to determine what constitutes a failed seawall, and Amadeo Petricca of the Utilities Advisory Board said they would hold a meeting in the next week to develop a recommendation.
Councilman Waldack mostly sat silent through the proceedings, but did comment when funds for water and sewer impact fees were referred to as “commingled,” cautioning that word “sets off all sorts of negative things.” He was assured nothing criminal was going on.
Speaking of sewers, Riviere said citations were going out for residents who had not hooked up to the sewer system after a one-year grace period.
With the entire five-year plan not ready for review, the committee scheduled an additional meeting for June 9, in addition to the meetings scheduled for June 16, July 6, and July 22, all to be held at City Hall.