MARCO ISLAND — Did you ever take a look at your finances, to see if you could afford that new car, or maybe just keep putting gas in the old car? Multiply that headache by a thousand, and you have an idea what the Marco Island City Council Budget Sub-Committee goes through.
Thursday, they held another meeting in the conference room at City Hall, going through the city budget line by painstaking line. Chairman Larry Magel, and Councilmen Bill Trotter, and Wayne Waldack took a fine-tooth comb to items down to fax machine maintenance contracts, cellphone use by city employees, and embroidered logo shirts.
At the end of the process, the committee will make recommendations to the entire City Council. The council will hold budget workshops Aug. 1 and Aug. 15, and the budget for the next fiscal year, and the plan for the next five years, will be set. The result of this series of meetings will determine whether the police department gets new radios, what sidewalks and roads get upgraded – and what tax rate Marco residents will pay.
“It’s an exercise you go through, excruciating at some point, but you make sure that what’s requested is justified,” said Magel afterward.
City Manager Jim Riviere, and budget analyst Robert Lange, joined by Finance Director Patricia Bliss, sat across the table from the councilmen, along with a succession of city department heads, as each explained and defended their budget requests. Thursday’s meetings focused on capital improvement projects, CIP in the acronym-heavy language of budgeting, and the numbers quickly ran into the millions.
Public Works Director Timothy Pinter went first, presenting a list of projects to fund. Asked by Magel to prioritize his requests, Pinter specified resizing the San Marco/Heathwood intersection as number one, followed by the San Marco/Barfield intersection, resurfacing city streets, new vehicles for Public Works, and improving sidewalks and signals to provide safer routes to schools. The councilors made it clear that cuts are necessary, and everything is on the table.
“In this environment, good and need to have are two different things,” said Trotter. With property values, and therefore property tax receipts, down eight to nine percent, expenditures have to drop as well, he said.
“We didn’t anticipate another nine percent drop in property values. We ought to try to do everything we can to avoid raising the millage.”
Pinter pointed out that the city has many sidewalks that do not meet ADA standards.
“That is an unsafe, unhealthy condition for those kids,” he said. He stressed that maintenance of roads, if put off, will create higher expenses down the road, as the surfaces continue to deteriorate.
Trotter pointed out that for money that is spent, the conditions are favorable in some ways.
“Grants are available, because a lot of municipalities can’t afford the match,” unable to spend their own dollars to win matching funds. “And we’ve been getting such great prices from contractors recently.”
Police Chief Thom Carr was told by Magel “you asked for six vehicles, we’re going to give you three. Does that save us on the radar units?” Yes, said the Chief, saying “they’re just wore out” of the current radar guns.
On the City logo shirts, Riviere said “I much prefer they (city employees) be dressed so they are clearly city employees. Believe it or not, there are some residents who will pull a gun on you.” It was pointed out that in many cases, the employees buy the shirts, and the City pays only for the logo.
At the beginning of the meeting, there was some confusion, as participants flipped through their three-ring binders, trying to literally get on the same page. Before the meeting’s end, Riviere asked the Councilors to turn in their binders, so city staff could update them with new information that is being generated, and make sure they are up to date.
The City Council Budget Sub-Committee has scheduled their next meeting, set for June 22, to go all day, hoping that by the final meeting on July 6 they can get through all departments and finalize their recommendations for the council.