MARCO ISLAND — After Monday’s City Council meeting, Marco Islanders don’t know what their property taxes will be, but they know the maximum they can be. They have no clue, though, what they will pay for a bridge to go over Smokehouse Bay.
The seemingly endless saga of a replacement for the Smokehouse Bay Bridge consumed most of the time at the meeting. Where T Y-Lin International, the winning design for the project, estimated the cost of the proposed bridge, with a set of swooping arches, at $7.9 million, when bids came in, they ranged from $11.47 to $13.13 million.
Council members took turns beating up on T Y Lin vice president James Molnar and Tim Pinter, the city’s public works director, exchanging ideas and attempting to redesign on the spot the bridge, which has been in the works for five years and consumed $2,000,000 to get to this stage.
“I’m trying to salvage our $2,000,000 we’ve flushed down the toilet at this point,” said Councilor Ken Honecker
“Mr. Pinter, I’m expressing extreme dissatisfaction,” said Councilor Larry Honig. “We have $1,650,000 of alleged costs and don’t know what that is.”
Pinter, with occasional assists from Molnar, pointed out that landscaping came much higher than estimated, street lighting was not included in the original proposal, and the largest factor, an increase in steel prices of 100 to 500 percent. Behind these numbers is the resurgence in the nation’s economy and construction sector, with suppliers and contractors not as desperate for work as in recent years. Necessity for repair of the surrounding seawalls added more dollars.
Four years ago, the city held a design competition, with engineering firms vying to create a bridge that would serve as a signature and a showcase for the city, with architectural flourishes and public park space attached. At Monday’s meeting, councilors put forth ideas to create a Smokehouse Bay Bridge that will get motorists, and hopefully pedestrians and cyclists, from one side to the other as cheaply as possible.
“We’ve got two million in it. If we can spend $100,000 to slice three million out, that’s worth it,” said Councilor Amadeo Petricca.
Honecker proposed sending the bridge specs out to fabricators. “Put it out as a design/build, let them give us the best bridge they can, and take the lowest bid,” he said. Since the engineering firm had “screwed up a little bit, maybe they’d like to do a redesign for nothing,” suggested Petricca.
Public comment added more variety to the possible fixes. Touting his experience managing water systems, Jack Markel stressed the importance of performing due diligence. David Abercrombie suggested that rather than a bridge, the city create a tunnel under Smokehouse Bay, at a cost he estimated at $16 to $30 million.
Former councilor Bill Trotter said “it’s critical to keep this moving forward.”
“I always hated those arches,” said Kay Battaglia.
Finally, on a motion by Councilor Chuck Kiester, the council voted 7-0 to reject all bids received, including that of low bidder Zep Construction, whose principal also took questions at the meeting, and explore cost-cutting measures, with the aim of finding a less expensive bridge this autumn.
By comparison, the setting of the maximum rate for ad valorem taxes was handled expeditiously, although councilors were essentially unanimous in their opinions all evening, saving their wrath for staff and suppliers. Assessed valuations for the city’s tax rolls will be up $1.8 million next year, the council was told by Finance Director Gill Polanco.
The tax rate, which City Council can lower but not raise once they vote on proposed millage rates, was set by unanimous vote. Councilor Larry Sacher urged his colleagues to “give yourself more of a margin.”
Honig said that “2.07 gives up plenty of breathing room,” and that’s where it ended up. General operations mills were set at 1.96 with Hideaway Beach Special Taxing District millage at .1163, with those being the maximum levies allowed.