MARCO ISLAND — Most of the talking at the Marco Island City Council is done by the council members themselves. Chairman Jerry Gibson, known for waxing eloquent when the situation demands, says it’s a dangerous thing to get between a politician and a microphone.
But the City Council chambers are also a forum for citizen’s initiatives, commendations and complaints, and the council hears a wide variety of problems, solutions, and griping. Wednesday’s meeting was no exception.
While the main focus was on the budget, with the City Council under the gun to adopt a spending and revenue plan for the coming fiscal year, other topics also came up during the public comment period included in every council meeting. Timothy Dayton, of Spinnaker Court – speakers are asked to give their names and addresses before addressing the board – took to the podium to air his grievances with the local building department.
Alleging unlicensed activity by an improperly licensed building department official, he complained that the city had not followed through on his previous attempts to get satisfaction, and now the statute of limitations for the offense had run out.
“They only had 180 days to prosecute. There is a special law that protects building inspectors, and they never took up my complaint about unlicensed activity,” Dayton said.
Bob Olson, of Montego Court, took two turns at the lectern to vent his feelings. He had harsh words for Council Chairman Jerry Gibson on the subject of changes to the island’s building density.
“Year in and year out, 90 percent of residents have said they do not want any change in density. Chairman Gibson, your words were misleading,” he said. The City Council, he said, “changed how we calculate density through transfers. We potentially changed the master plan of our island under auspices of the summer session, when nobody is here.” Important issues, said Olson, should be brought to a referendum of the people.
At one point, Gibson cautioned Olson to direct his remarks to the council, rather than making a speech to the audience.
Hours later, Olson came back to urge fiscal austerity on the council. His remarks were echoed by a succession of public speakers, who reminded their representatives of the hard times faced by residents.
“We’re in the third year of the worst downturn of our lifetime,” said Bill McMullen. “Taxpayers expect a reduction. Any budget that doesn’t cut is a disservice to the residents. It doesn’t matter if we move money from one pot to another.”
Fay Biles, president of the Marco Island Taxpayers Association, also called for lower spending.
“You know very well how I feel about that 1.89 (millage rate),” she said. Older people are suffering, and “this year, I’ve had calls galore.
“I don’t think we need to rush into replacing the Smokehouse Bay Bridge. I think there are ways to further reduce the budget.”
Councilman Chuck Kiester noted that the Jolley Bridge was paid for by Federal stimulus dollars, only because the design work was done and the project ready to start.
“To use stimulus money, it must be shovel-ready,” he said, noting that the money in the budget for the Smokehouse Bay Bridge is for design, not construction.
Amadeo Petricca, chairman of the Utilities Advisory Board, cautioned that once an expense, or a higher millage rate, is put in place, it is unlikely to sunset.
Jay Santiago, M.D., cited the high cost of prescription drugs as something affecting people’s personal budgets, especially senior citizens, while there has been no increase in Social Security benefits.
“A prescription can easily cost $100,” and many seniors are taking only half the prescribed dose, he said.
Gibson, speaking more as citizen than council member, weighed in with an impassioned plea for funding of Fourth of July fireworks.
“People make fun of it, but it’s a very important thing for this island. Visitors come here because we have a good reputation” for fireworks, he said, and businesses rely on the revenue to help through the slow summer months.
With one more council meeting before the fiscal year 2012 budget is finalized, the island may yet see some more fireworks.