MARCO ISLAND — The Budget Sub-Committee of the Marco Island City Council deals with many numbers, but of all of the figures, two stand out. One is the total proposed budget for the city for the upcoming fiscal year, and the other, which flows from the first one, is the millage rate city taxpayers will have to ante up to fund the budget. That's what the process is all about – what the city spends, and what it will cost you.
Monday and Tuesday, the three city councilors on the budget sub-committee were hard at it, taking wish lists from each city department, and deciding whether, in their judgment, and therefore the report they will deliver to the full City Council, each of the requests is justified and necessary.
A succession of department heads, from Police Chief Don Hunter to Public Works Director Tim Pinter, presented their proposals to the councilors. After each department made its case item by item, the sub-committee members, Chairman Joe Batte, Frank Recker and Jerry Gibson, went back and voted yes or no.
The Fire Department requested, among other items, three new vehicles and a fire-rescue boat. Information Technology asked for $150,000 in upgrades to equipment in the city's community room, where the budget meeting was held, to better present information and transmit it to the island's citizens.
"The more visible you make city hall, the better off we are," said Recker, with meetings of committees and advisory boards, as well as the council, available to watch.
"Let the people see how city government works," said Gibson. "People think everything starts with City Council."
With Community Development Director Bryan Milk home recuperating from surgery, and watching the proceedings on television, Recreation Supervisor Alex Galiano presented the Parks and Recreation proposed items. These included lighting for parks, athletic fields and special events, and $65,000 for renovations to the playing fields at Mackle Park. Replacing the Community Center there, at a cost of $3.4 million, said Batte, needs to be put to the entire council for guidance.
Police requests included $28,800 for replacement laptop computers, and $30,000 for new patrol boat outboard engines. Ironically, one large request, for $120,000 to replace the emergency VHF radio system, means leaving a system that works fine, but no longer complies with FCC requirements, said Assistant Chief Dave Baer.
Many of the big ticket items fall under public works, presented by director Tim Pinter. The committee members voted no on $8 million to construct a new Smokehouse Bay Bridge this fiscal year, although City Manager Jim Riviere added his pitch.
"Stand on the Esplanade side, and feel the vibrations as trucks go over," he urged the councilors.
They said yes to $400,000 for street resurfacing, to drainage projects that are 50 percent reimbursed by a grant from the South Florida Water Management District, and to $121,000 for equipment including a $60,000 lawn mower.
Eventually, the Budget Sub-Committee looked at the big picture. Acting Finance Director Robert Lang took them through the numbers.
From the current millage rate of 1.9592, the overall two percent reduction in assessed property values means the city must charge a slightly higher rate to generate the same tax dollars as last year. This "roll back rate" would be 2.0076, just over two tenths of a percent for every dollar of assessed property. If the budget were increased by the maximum allowed by the spending cap, the rate would go to 2.2725.
The intent, said Lang, is to make the budget "taxpayer neutral," with the average tax bite the same as last year, although "some people's tax bills would go up slightly and some down," he said. The final word goes to the full Marco Island City Council, which meets on Monday.