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MARCO ISLAND — There were fireworks, or at least a discussion of fireworks, in the Marco Island City Council at their meeting on Monday.
Unlike many Council meetings, where the great majority of the discussion centers around the agenda items, much of the talk came during the Community Forum, where citizens are given the chance to address the board on their concerns.
A big concern Monday was fireworks, or more precisely, paying for them. Speaker after speaker rose to urge the City fathers, who just passed a budget that slashes money for the Fourth of July fireworks display, along with numerous other items, to reconsider.
First up was Alan Brown, president of the Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce. He made no attempt to hide the fact he is not a native American, which his accent gave away, in any case, as soon as he began to speak.
“Sixteen years ago, I moved to this country from England. In 2005, I became an American citizen. One of the things that made us decide to stay here was the patriotism,” he said. In England, people take their heritage for granted.
“One of the things I love is the Fourth of July. Our recommendation is you consider putting on the budget fireworks for the Fourth of July.” He noted the city’s Farmers’ Market makes a profit of approximately $60,000, and the cost for the fireworks is about $40,000, and asked that those funds be earmarked to pay for fireworks.
Invoking founding father John Adams, who foresaw the Fourth of July celebrations, Planning Board member Monte Lazarus made a similar point. He told the Council that the Planning Board had passed a unanimous resolution urging the city to fund the display.
Ruth McCann, executive director of the Marco Island Civic Association, told the Council her organization had taken a poll, and 85 percent voted yes on supporting the fireworks, compared to 9 percent against, and 6 percent undecided.
“It’s the largest gathering of our community all year long,” she said. “It would be a shame to see that fall apart.”
Marco Island Taxpayers Association president Fay Biles spoke up for personal contributions.
“If all of us could contribute five or ten dollars,” she said, government funding wouldn’t be necessary.
One resident, Ray Seward, spoke up against government funding, saying businesses that benefit from the fireworks “should be paying for it.” Saying no one is questioning anyone’s patriotism, he suggested any profits from the Farmers’ Market “should be reinvested in our debt.”
Councilman Wayne Waldack offered his calculation that, if fireworks were paid for out of ad valorem taxes, the tax bite per property owner would come to $1.68 apiece.
“I don’t think that’s a lot of money,” he said.
“That’s less than the $5 Fay wanted to spend,” added Chairman Jerry Gibson.
Kathleen Reynolds also spoke to the Council, making a similar pitch for funds for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. “Giving us a few bucks would really help,” she said, saying her group is currently a 501 (c)7 organization, and awaiting the granting of 501(c)3 status.
Bill McMullen, along with several other speakers, urged more of a dialog between the Council and the public. Larry Sacher, president of the Marco Homeowners Association, said there is “a lack of transparency – a feeling the City Council doesn’t represent the interests of the people who elected you.” He said that Amadeo Petricca “had some specific questions. They were not answered. We spend our four minutes venting, and kind of get stared at. Rarely does anyone respond.” Sacher suggested a Town Hall-style meeting, to promote more give and take with elected officials.
Gibson did respond at the end of the public forum, saying, “I will not put staff in the position of having to make a response off the cuff. Much of the time, there needs to be research done to answer questions.”
Council also heard from local feline rescue group For the Love of Cats, and debated a measure either urging or requiring local merchants to stop selling candy- and fruit-flavored tobacco products.