MARCO ISLAND — In dollars, a new community center at Mackle Park made sense Thursday when it came before Marco Island City Council's budget subcommittee. Realistically, the Smokehouse Bridge may outstrip all other requests in the city's 2013 capital projects budget.
The bridge would replace a deteriorating structure, Tim Pinter, public works director, told the subcommittee, and cost the city $8 million, more than half of all projects requested. The urgency of the project could push it to the top of next year's list.
"Every year we delay the deterioration gets worse," Pinter said. "Will the bridge fail and fall down into the water? No one could tell us that."
City Manager Jim Riviere agreed the bridge must be replaced soon. He told the subcommittee he had been harboring reserves to replace it. His fear, he said, was a storm event that could make the situation worse.
Subcommittee members asked if the cost could be spread over two years: 2013 and 2014. The bridge's final design was completed this year, and Pinter estimated construction could take 18 months. Attempts to attract grant money for the project have failed.
Another consideration was short-term borrowing, allowing some costs to be financed by future users and making the expense less of a burden on current taxpayers. Pinter said he would take back his plan and recalculate the financing before the next capital project's hearing.
Other projects in public works included drainage and road resurfacing, intersection reconfigurations, vehicles and equipment purchases, bike paths, and work on the Blackmore Bridge, near Tigertail Beach. Total capital financing requested by public works, including Smokehouse Bridge, was $12.6 million.
Police and Fire Departments requested technology upgrades, vehicles and a fire-rescue boat. Police upgrades were primarily new technologies to enhance communications and training. An original request for $92,000 in emergency operations software was taken off the table when Chief Don Hunter said his department negotiated with the county to provide it at no charge.
Earlier, Hunter convinced the county to dispense with its $180,000 contract for dispatch services for the city. The intervention netted $90,000 in 2012 for the second half of the year's contract.
Police capital requests less the $92,000 were $490,700. For fire, requests with a leased fire-rescue boat were $252,400. Fire received only $19,000 in 2012 used for Station No. 51 upgrades.
Discussion of a new community center at Mackle Park enlivened discussion. The project has been on the drawing board for a number of years and has been a lightening rod for public debate.
Marco Island City Councilor Frank Recker said that now was the time for council to embrace a building plan.
"It's outrageous that Parks and Recreation has to come to us timid and defensive because of shots they have taken from the community," he said. "They should come in proudly saying what they'd like to see. Any city worth its salt should have adequate recreation facilities for its citizens."
Councilor Jerry Gibson felt the problem was communication.
"There is a lot of misinformation about the building," he said. "Let people see the impact on taxes, and I think they'll approach this in a positive way."
Vice Chairman Joe Batte suggested the failure was council's for not providing strong guidance on the project. The Parks and Recreation Department was being unfairly fired upon by the public, he said.
"As a governing body, we need to give guidance, and the people need to make the decision," he said. A good business plan on how the building would be funded should be voted on through referendum to end the recent turmoil, he said.
Parks and Recreation's capital requests, including $260,000 for the first year's payment on a new community center, came to $612,000.
All other requests for capital projects outside of utilities totaled $12.5 million. Capital projects for water and sewer utilities totaled $8.1 million.
The budget subcommittee is comprised of Councilors Recker, Gibson and Council Vice Chairman Batte, who acted as chairman for the subcommittee. The next meeting of the subcommittee is scheduled for June 18 when expense budgets will be discussed.