MARCO ISLAND — The fiscal year 2013 budget and associated tax millage rates finally worked through the Marco Island City Council on Monday night, after months of departmental presentations, workshops, budget sub-committee sessions and council debates.
City Manager Jim Riviere opened the meeting by introducing Marco’s newest police officers.
Most of the wrangling and haggling took place before Monday’s meeting, and ordinances adopting the final budgets and tax rates for both the city and the Hideaway Beach Special Taxing District mostly passed by unanimous votes.
Only the Marco budget drew a no vote from Councilman Bill Trotter, who continued to object to what he saw as misleading numbers being set out in the document. When all was said and done, the tax millage rates settled on were the same as the previous fiscal year, 1.96 for city operations, and .1204 for debt service, meaning no city tax increase for Marco property owners.
Council spent more time on other issues, with regulations governing seawall repairs taking up most of the discussion, along with the waterways ordinance, rules for political campaign signage, and a recitation of the numerous lawsuits the city is involved in.
The seawall issue has become something of a political football, passed back and forth between the Council, the city’s Planning Board, and city staff, with seawall contractors and island residents weighing in as well. After the last council meeting, where the councilors directed the Planning Board to draft regulations governing the work, that body demurred, saying more time was needed to fully explore the issue.
“I was disappointed the Planning Board didn’t make much progress,” said City Council Chairman Larry Magel on Monday. “The public is deprived of quiet enjoyment” of their homes if the noise and mess of seawall replacement is going on around them.
Community Services Director Bryan Milk said he had met with the contractors, and used their input in drafting the proposed rules, which allowed only “emergency repairs” on barges and construction vessels. Magel wanted a more precise definition.
“What’s an emergency repair?” he asked.
“Usually, that’s when they’re sinking,” said Milk, prompting a round of laughter in the council chambers.
The issue of using adjacent vacant lots for construction staging was revisited.
“I would like to prohibit residential lots for seawall construction – period,” said Magel, proposing a six-month period before the new rule would take effect.
“I’ve been singing that song for three years,” said Councilor Frank Recker.
Contractor and City Council candidate Duane Thomas rose to speak of the difficulty of accomplishing the work.
“I have to get the old wall out; I have to get the new wall in. We have all these bridges limiting the size of barges that can access the canals, and when tides allow the material to fit underneath. It’s a unique situation.”
Councilor Joe Batte wanted to know why concrete is the only choice for seawalls. He proposed a workshop in three months to check in on the progress on the issue. Audience input included John Arceri asking council to keep “industrial facilities” out of residential areas, and Bert Thompson wanting to know how many seawalls would be in need of replacement on the island.
The council voted 7-0 for the new rules, allowing each lot to be used for only one seawall replacement job, and banning manmade materials as riprap.
With four City Council seats up for election in November, signage for political campaigns drew a lot of attention.
Beverly Trotter, wife of term-limited Councilor Bill Trotter, rose to say councilors running for re-election should not vote on the question.
“There are three councilors sitting here who should abstain,” she said. Her husband, on the dais, took issue with Milk’s suggestion that signs be allowed up to the property line, pointing out that is difficult to determine exactly. At his suggestion, the council set a distance of 18 inches from the sidewalk as the uniform setback required for two ft. by two ft. signs.
City attorney Burt Saunders said that, under law, a conflict of interest only if the lawmaker benefits uniquely, as in zoning for property in which they have an interest.
A maximum of one sign per candidate is allowed on any individual property.
Judy Sacher, wife of candidate Larry Sacher, said, “Somebody took our signs,” prompting Recker to demur. “I’ve been out of town,” he said.
City Council’s next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 1.