MARCO ISLAND — Marco Island City Councilors wanted to know what residents had to say, and on Monday, got an earful.
What was advertised as a one-and-a-half hour Town Hall stretched to nearly four hours as residents quizzed council on water rates, building at Mackle Park, density credits, referendums and mid-town redevelopment.
The vast uncertainty surrounding new water/sewer rates drew the greatest interest. The public was uneasy with the process and its possible implementation. Council was asked why two studies, the M-1 and M-54 rate models, were necessary and why the process was not discussed in open workshops. The M-1 model was completed in June. Later, council requested the same consultant produce the M-54 model, presented to council in December.
“People had questions about the M-1 study,” explained Vice Councilor Larry Magel.
Councilors agreed they took issue with how the M-1 study’s findings related to Marco Island’s unique multi-seasonal community. Magel also felt the M-54 model missed the mark since it was designed for communities with fewer residences.
But those offering public comment were not happy with council paying for two studies, and then planning one public workshop in March just hours before first reading of the new rate ordinance. Council explained it is waiting for a final rate sufficiency study before it will have all the necessary information to address rate increases and the public.
“It’s like making a jigsaw puzzle and we’re fitting all the pieces together,” said Council Chairman Jerry Gibson. “There’s a lot of complexity on this island, so we need the three pieces of the puzzle: The M-1, M-54 and sufficiency study.”
Council was receptive to holding rate workshops earlier than the day of the issue’s first reading. Final one-on-one meetings with councilors and the consulting firm are scheduled to be completed the first week of February.
Ruth McCann of the Marco Island Civic Association questioned, by written submission, how council will ensure rates are charged fairly and equitably among all property owners. Council admitted the question raised its greatest dilemma.
“How you define fair and equitable is a matter of perspective,” said Councilor Frank Recker. “We’re trying to reach for balance. We want a perception that we’ve done our best in setting the rates.”
Magel suggested a disparity in rates occurs when utility customers place different demands on the system. Statistically, single family homeowners use about six times more water per month than single condominium units. He also pointed out that 60 percent of Marco Island’s water is consumed between 12 midnight and 6 a.m.
“How do we do it fairly? By getting the politics out of it,” he said.
Councilor Bill Trotter disagreed that the only consideration should be the consultants’ numeric findings.
“The consultants did a cost of services study not an equity study. It’s not about usage but about full build-out of this island; and therefore, we should share equally. The consultants have yet to provide that point of view,” he said.
On building a new facility at Mackle Park, councilors agreed they had not seen any actual plans and would consider the project for referendum vote if it moves forward. Regardless of how the decision is made, council felt a rigorous business plan, justification of usage and survey of the population using the facility would be required before a vote. Redevelopment of the mid-town district and density credits raised some confusion that Magel later clarified. The only vote council has taken on future changes to the district was an agreement to allow density transfers within the district.
“There will be no increase of credits, just a transfer of existing credits,” Magel explained. Councilor Joe Batte suggested why some people could be confused.
“Council did pass the density credit transfer, and that may have created a sense that it was a done deal,” Batte said. He asked the public to give Planning Board time to create information for public discussion before jumping to any conclusions.
Two other items, sidewalk widening and swale composition, drew public inquiry. Council asked the public to hold questions since both subjects were currently in committee and had not been received by council for discussion.
The Town Hall was moderated by Collier County’s Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards. Edwards is a Marco Island resident.