Marco Island City Council – Budget discussion brings on heated exchange

Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent
Councilor Bill Trotter holds up the city's budget workbook to make a point during the budget discussion. The Marco Island City Council held the first of its two September meetings on Tuesday, due to the Labor Day holiday.

Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent Councilor Bill Trotter holds up the city's budget workbook to make a point during the budget discussion. The Marco Island City Council held the first of its two September meetings on Tuesday, due to the Labor Day holiday.

— Did the numbers reflect a six percent utility rate hike, he wanted to know. Some confusion reigned, with council members, City Manager Jim Riviere and Finance Director Robert Lange attempting to address the issue.

"We're perpetuating the misconception we approved a six percent rate increase," said Trotter, advocating the City Council hold a workshop prior to the next regular meeting to discuss it. "Right now, we're getting mixed messages. I don't know what we're approving."

"I certainly remember recommending a six percent increase," said Councilman Joe Batte, acting as chairman in the absence of Chairman Larry Magel, who was out recuperating from back surgery.

"I recall agreeing we could adopt the budget, and then reconcile it," said Councilman Frank Recker. "Adopt the budget, knowing we can change it, and go ahead with the second reading."

"The first step is get the general budget approved. Second, take up the water and sewer department," said Riviere.

Trotter, who was on last year's budget sub-committee, but not this year's, brought up the increase in operating expenses for the city, amounting to $950,000. "How are we covering that? We're taking it from reserves," he said.

Marco resident and council candidate Ken Honecker, making his fifth or sixth trip to the mic to address the meeting, said, "this council is, dare I say, a little dysfunctional. It seems like you kind of pulled a fast one on us," he added saying that money had been shifted from surcharge to the ad valorem category. Lange said no reserves were being taken from the general fund.

After repeated exchanges, with the other councilors ready to have the budget's first reading approved – it must come back for a second reading at a subsequent meeting – Recker had had enough.

"I feel like it's the OK Corral. I'm being ambushed so you can support some political candidates that are running for council," he said to Trotter. "I don't have time for that."

"I resent your implication I'm making a political statement," shot back Trotter. "The last one with a political agenda is me. I'm not running. The rest of you are running."

Batte "called the question," the vote was taken, and the budget's first reading was approved 5-1, with Trotter dissenting. The council also approved the city's millage rate, and the budget and millage rate for the Hideaway Beach Special Taxing District, without dissension.

Before the tax millage was approved, Riviere ran through a summary of the tax revenue and millages, and the decisions and changes to the budget that had been made during the previous round of meetings. The millage rate approved was 1.96, generating $13,872,305 in tax revenue, in comparison to the previous year's 1.9592 mills.

Chairman Magel, contacted by phone the next day, said he had watched the meeting on public access television.

"That was unfortunate," he said of the confrontation between councilors. "People don't understand, a budget is nothing more than a planning document. The key is managing the operations of the city so you don't spend all the money in the budget." For the previous year, he said, on a budget of $21.5 million, Marco Island had ended the year with $1.5 million not spent.

City Council's next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 17. The FY13 budget must be finalized before the fiscal year's beginning on Oct. 1.

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Comments » 4

GFonda writes:

Yes, BUT if the millage rate is based on the budget, doesn't there need to be clarity as to just what is exactly in the budget. Seems to me there are questions that need answers like:

1. Is there a 6% utility rate hike included or not

2. How is the extra $950,000 in additional operating expenses being funded; and why almost an additional $1 million can be justified in this economy

It was apparent that there were no answers to these questions that were agreed upon and this raises the issue of "transparency".

Additionally, the question raised by Ken Honecker relative to the cash flow problem in STRP collections versus debt payment was brushed off by the City Manager who stated - come to my office and I will explain it to you. That is NOT transparency and I think all of us are owed an explanation in open forum.

2themoon writes:

"I resent your implication I'm making a political statement," shot back Trotter. "The last one with a political agenda is me. I'm not running. The rest of you are running."
Ahhhh but you are running mr. Trotter, you need to support mr. Aceris candidates that are running...once a Marco syndicate member always a Marco syndicate member.

NobodysFool57 writes:

So, the village idiots are hiking the millage rate once again. Get ready for your property value to slide (for the sixth year in a row) as more disgusted homeowners throw in the towel. As for the incumbent council candidates running for re-election,see ya, too much financial baggage to be trusted with my money. Maybe,once the farmer's market reopens you can score some cheap produce in Immokalee and become a huckster out of the trunk of your car.

MIslander writes:

"this council is, dare I say, a little dysfunctional."

Excellent observation on the city as whole, including the city departments that live in la-la land. When will taxpayers have enough and demand accountability?

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