City Council moves forward with lifesaving vessel
At the end of the meeting, everything was right back where it started. Marco's new lifesaving vessel will become a reality.
The Marco Island City Council held a special-called meeting on short notice Wednesday, outside the usual schedule of council sessions, to deal with one issue — purchase of a city fire-rescue boat. The lease-purchase, with an eventual price tag more than $400,000, had been approved by the previous city council in October on a 6-1 vote.
Since that action, though, three sitting council members lost their re-election bids, and a fourth, Bill Trotter, was term-limited out. New council chairman Joe Batte said that "several members" of the council had asked the city manager to revisit the decision, before any more city funds were committed.
"We're $80,000 in the hole" if council decided to pull the plug that day, said Batte, but a payment of $129,105, already approved, was due to go to the manufacturer, Metalcraft Marine of Cape Vincent, New York, so if the new council wanted to have a say, they couldn't wait for the scheduled December council session.
With a fluency born of long practice extolling the virtues of the proposed vessel, Marco Island Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murphy took the board through a thorough – over an hour – exposition of the new craft's advantages, features, benefits, and even cost savings over the long run. Assisted by Fire-Rescue Capt. Tom Bogan, he compared the maintenance and replacement expenses of instead keeping the department's current Donzi, a gasoline-powered outboard-driven boat built of fiberglass, as well as the issue of safety.
The Metalcraft boat, with a steel hull, will be powered by Diesel engines operating jet drives, eliminating the hazards of propellers in the water while rescuing swimmers or accident victims, and the potential of a catastrophic fuel explosion.
"You have to shut off the engines to pick up people from the water," rendering the boat unmaneuverable, said Murphy. "We're dragging people over the side of the boat," as the current vessel has no platform or access for that purpose.
The primary purpose of the proposed boat, he stressed again and again, is rescue, not firefighting. But even for firefighting, the new boat's Diesel engines will power pumps, providing yet another advantage over the Donzi.
Batte noted that he had voted against the new boat during budget subcommittee meetings under the previous council, although he voted for it in the final, full council vote.
"I tried twice to get it tabled, and moved to the new council" for an up or down vote, he said.
New councilor Larry Honig expressed reservations about the concept of revisiting decisions made by previous versions of the city council.
"I'm troubled. It puts people on notice that if you deal with Marco Island, you better watch the elections," he said.
Even after Murphy's presentation, council members had many questions about the boat, the costs, and what the city's mission and responsibilities in providing fire and rescue services offshore. Councilman Ken Honecker, in particular, asked about additional costs for equipment — included, he was told, possible alternate manufacturers — considered, but not fulfilling the city's specifications, and whether the city could seek reimbursement for rescue services provided, as is done for ambulance users.
Eventually, a consensus emerged that Marco Island, an island community heavily oriented toward water recreation, needed to have the capability of performing water-based rescue and fire suppression, and Murphy and his department's six years of research and planning had yielded the appropriate, cost-effective choice.
Councilman Chuck Kiester made a motion to approve the boat, but after discussion, the councilors determined, with the help of City Attorney Burt Saunders, that by simply taking no action, they would allow the previous decision to stand, allowing the boat to move forward.
"I don't know why they had to revisit" the rescue boat, said former councilman Jerry Gibson, a strong proponent, watching from the audience. "This is just the new council trying to flex its muscles."
Marco Island Fire-Rescue Foundation president Dianna Dohm, who sent out a blast e-mail urging approval for the vessel, and asking members to show up at the council chambers and voice their support, expressed her satisfaction at the meeting's outcome. The audience filled most of the room, and a majority of public speakers backed the new fire-rescue boat.
"We're very happy. We're a boating community," said Dohm. "Protecting Marco Island citizens is our mission, and we need this boat."
The next council meeting, rescheduled from Dec. 10, is set for Dec. 20. From remarks made in the council communications forum at the end of Wednesday's session, the never-ending saga of utility rates will get a further airing.