MARCO ISLAND — What will the year ahead bring? After a year of heated debates, political upheaval, and ongoing unresolved issues, some of what is coming over the bridge for Marco Island in 2013 can be summed up in four words: More of the same.
But rather than leave it at that, the Eagle asked a number of civic and community leaders for their predictions on the topics likely to engage Islanders' attention during the coming year. They were also asked for their own New Year's resolutions, but most opted not to "go there."
Kathleen Passidomo is Marco Island's voice in Tallahassee, the Florida State Representative whose district includes the island. She focuses on the big picture, how the measures the political bodies at the state level enact affect her constituents.
"The policies the governor and the legislature created and implemented over the past two years will see Florida's economy getting on the right track, and beginning a hopefully robust recovery," said Passidomo. "However, if we can't get skyrocketing healthcare costs under control, and manage Medicaid and other related programs, all of our good work could be impacted."
With "Obamacare" becoming the law of the land, the State of Florida's response will have sweeping effects on people statewide, but the outlines of a new, post Affordable Care Act system for Florida are not yet known.
On mortgage reform, an issue Passidomo, a real estate attorney, has emerged as a leader on, she said, "I will refile my foreclosure bill. Florida is one of the states that has not gotten the foreclosure crisis under control." All bills on the subject must go through her committees, Civil Justice and Judiciary.
"We are going to deal with revamping the state's educational system, the entire process from K-12 and college, so when students leave their school years, they can get a job," she said. "Our students need to be workforce-ready." As part of the process, each local school district needs to match up educational offerings with the available or desired jobs in that region, she said.
At the county level, Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala, Marco's county commissioner, won reelection in November by a comfortable margin, as did Passidomo. Many of her issues for the upcoming year focus on the island's beaches. Fiala pointed with pride to the improvements at Tigertail Beach, operated by the county parks and recreation dept.
"At Tigertail, we'll finish the last of the five boardwalks, the upgraded parking and the bathrooms," she said. "I'm hoping that will take some of the parking pressure off South Beach."
On Hideaway Beach, Fiala is not optimistic the newly-constituted county commission will keep funding in place for the erosion control structures previously approved.
"I do not anticipate us getting the money for it," she said, questioning the wisdom of the new commission majority that has opted to revisit spending tourist development funds for the project.
"It's almost like a vendetta. These three are now trying to enact a law to say that anything dredged must go elsewhere, and not onto the closest beach." Hideaway Beach residents are paying to have their own beach renourished, she noted, and the groins for erosion control are designed to help keep that sand from washing out and silting up the nearby pass, creating a navigational hazard for all area boaters.
On another issue going back on the commission's agenda for another look, Fiala was more sanguine.
"I do believe we will end up paying for the runway resurfacing" at the Marco Island Executive Airport, she said. "The FAA has stood firm. If these people refuse to resurface the runway, the FAA will take their grant money back, then force the county to resurface the runway anyway, at taxpayer expense."
Her New Year's resolution, said Fiala, is "to do my very best, regardless of the efforts to stop what's right for the people." On a personal note, she added she had been blessed to have all five of her children in town over the holidays. "There isn't a better thing than to be surrounded by family," she said.
City Council Chairman Joe Batte, newly elevated to the post, said his resolution is to "get through this year as chairman and move on." He sees several major issues on the horizon that will come before the council, notably seawalls, the Smokehouse Bay Bridge, and Mackle Park's proposed new community center.
"Obviously, the seawall issue is big, and something we have to clear up," he said. "The Planning Board has to address all the issues, including the quality of life for our residents.
"We've got some big expenditures coming up on the Smokehouse Bay Bridge," Batte said. "We have already made some decisions on the engineering, and now we have to move forward with the actual construction. Infrastructure is important," he added, possibly making a new bridge mandatory rather than optional, "but there is some thought on repair."
The Mackle Park Center is a "hot button issue. I've asked it to be put on the agenda, to be sure the new council is briefed on it," he said. "I like the idea of going to the people, and putting it to a referendum – it is a $4 million expense."
Batte said his challenge is to first, do a good job himself as a city councilor, and second, as chairman, to be sure the entire council is working together. "I think that will be easy, though. We have a lot of self-motivated councilors."
Fay Biles, president of the Marco Island Taxpayers Association, is committed to helping the councilors do that job, especially when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars.
"We have to take a close look at all the big debts coming up," she said, especially since she sees so much debt at the national level. "This new city council, I'm not sure they know everything. My personal resolution is to keep a close eye on everything the city council spends money on," said Biles.
Lee Rubenstein, chairman of the Veterans Memorial Committee, said the loss of ad valorem taxes from lower property values would be a major concern in the coming year. Dave Rice, chairman of the Big Flag Committee and Naples Daily News Marco Citizen of the Year, had his New Year wish come true even before the year started.
"My resolution is to get the big flag flying again," he said before the City Council meeting last Thursday, and just hours later, was able to step in front of the microphone at the meeting and announce the flag was back up.Maybe New Year's resolutions aren't such a bad idea after all.