Marco residents address utilities, hospitals at first-ever town hall meeting

Lexey Swall/Staff
Marco Island City Coucil Vice Chairman Larry Magel, second from right, speaks during a town hall meeting in the Community Room on the Marco Island city government campus Monday night. Marco Island City Council members held the town hall meeting evening to answer questions that were submitted about various topics such as water and sewer rights, a possible new community center at Mackle Park and city planning. The audience was then allowed to ask questions along the same topic lines and other issues in an open forum.

Lexey Swall/Staff Marco Island City Coucil Vice Chairman Larry Magel, second from right, speaks during a town hall meeting in the Community Room on the Marco Island city government campus Monday night. Marco Island City Council members held the town hall meeting evening to answer questions that were submitted about various topics such as water and sewer rights, a possible new community center at Mackle Park and city planning. The audience was then allowed to ask questions along the same topic lines and other issues in an open forum.

Talk of water and sewage rates dominated nearly all of the 90 minutes allotted for Marco Island's first town hall meeting Monday.

So City Council members stayed late to address the concerns of the more than 50 residents who attended.

The three-and-a-half hour meeting started at 5:30 p.m. and dabbled in a range of issues, from utility rates and zoning to parks and hospitals. Some residents said the city needs to have town halls more often to address them all.

"I think these are great," said Jim Groskopf, a full-time resident since 2004.

Groskopf waited three hours before getting an answer to his submitted question about how to enforce zoning restrictions in his residential neighborhood. His neighbors rent their home on a weekly basis and he said it's ruined his retirement.

Council spent a few minutes on Groskopf's question, but most submitted questions dealt with water and sewage rates.

Utility rates have long been a concern on the island, where residents have paid fees toward the city's utility-related debt. But residents worry the rates they pay aren't fair or equal to what their neighbors pay.

The city charges rates based on amount of water used compared to typical usage amounts for residential, multi-residential or business properties and depending on lot size, among other factors.

"At the end of the day, some people will feel it's fair and some won't," Councilman Joe Batte said.

A Marco resident whose wife survived a heart attack this year, told council that while the call to 911 saved her life, the 90-minute commute to the hospital was too long. He suggested council consider a 24/7 hospital for the island.

Ambulance services were scrutinized in October after a Marco Island man died after he waited nearly an hour for transport between the Marco Island Healthcare Center and NCH Downtown Naples Hospital.

Council members said the cost to taxpayers for a round-the-clock emergency facility on the island would be high and that studies have shown there are not enough patients from the island during certain hours of the day to merit a hospital. Some residents countered by saying a vote would tell council whether they would be more willing to build a hospital than a proposed $4 million recreation center, another hot item in Monday's discussion.

"It's easy to criticize other programs if you have no interest in them," Chairman Jerry Gibson said. "It's easy for you to see no use for parks and recreation if you don't utilize parks and recreation."

Councilman William Trotter suggested the issue of a new recreation center be put to referendum, a suggestion many applauded.

"We have to consider all the people on the island...and they all have different needs," said Councilman Wayne Waldack.

Halfway through the meeting, longtime resident Bill McMullan said he thought the discussions could have gone better and focused too long on water issues.

"Nobody here is happy," he said. "Everyone who's happy stays home."

During the meeting Collier County Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards read questions submitted by residents. Gibson said residents asked for Monday's town hall meeting, the first the city has held, but doesn't know if there will be future meetings.

"I think council is always anxious to exchange information (with the public)," Gibson said. "I think we've accomplished what we set out to accomplish: talking."

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