MARCO ISLAND — At 4 p.m. on Monday, Marco Island City Councilors met behind closed doors to discuss pending litigation surrounding the city’s building services division.
By evening, council called for a thorough investigation into complaints against the department.
“We do have litigation pending, but it would be a positive for the city to evaluate this,” City Attorney Burt Saunders told council. He offered his services for $5,000 and promised a report to council by Dec. 2.
Councilor Larry Sacher volunteered to work on behalf of council with investigators, but Council Chairman Joe Batte asked the investigation be independent of council.
Community Affairs Director Bryan Milk, who oversees the department, defended the work of building services. The department processed 10,450 permits and conducted more than 40,000 inspections in a two-year period, he told council.
Councilors also asked Saunders to lobby state legislators to repeal laws prohibiting Florida cities from regulating activities in short-term rental units. Pending legislation would remove prohibitions that cripple cities when neighbors complain about misconduct, particularly in private home rentals.
Saunders agreed to work on behalf of council from November through the legislative session. His lobbying services will be billed to the city at $1,000 per month.
Council moved to tighten code enforcement on rental properties by including property owners as responsible parties for renter violations. Council voted 5-0 on first reading to revise its definition of violator from renters only to include owners of property on which violations occur.
The revision will allow the city to place a lien on property where code enforcement has issued a violation to renters. The property’s owner will be notified of the violation and can appear before the code enforcement board.
Councilor Chuck Kiester and Vice Chairman Ken Honecker were not present to vote at the meeting.
Council tabled discussion on assessing property owners for missing sidewalks on vacant lots and for necessary repairs to existing sidewalks. To date, the city has not enforced an ordinance passed in 1999 that required owners to construct or reconstruct, maintain and keep in good condition and repair, sidewalks in front of or abutting their property.
Saunders warned council that although property owners are required to maintain abutting sidewalks, the sidewalks are owned by the city. If a person were injured, he said, the city could be sued.
Council to Collier County
Council will take up two issues with the Collier County Board of Commissioners.
Councilors approved a letter strongly urging the county to keep the Tourist Development Council and the Coastal Advisory Committee as separate boards. Councilors received word county commissioners might consider combining them.
Council also discussed Marco Island’s north beach where pooling water becomes stagnant and creates a muddy and murky walking surface.
North beach laser grading is not working, said Councilor Larry Honig.
“Pools of standing water are damaging the beach. We cannot add to the volume of sand on this beach but might be permitted to take our own beach sand and redistribute it,” he said.
Honig asked council to allow Collier County’s Coastal Zone Management Department to examine the feasibility of moving sand from the water side of north beach. By moving 50 to 100 feet of waterside sand to the affected area, a slope could be created that would eliminate pooling and allow sea turtles to nest, he said. Marco’s north beach is over 1000-feet wide.
Estimated cost for the project is $3-4 million and could be completed within 2 years. The city would request money from county commissioners for the project.
Council heard three presentations Monday.
Honig shared information collected from Florida cities charting debt and taxation. Honig compared like cities that owned water/sewer utilities with populations ranging from 7,500 to 100,000.
“City debt is the highest in the state of Florida,” Honig said. “Municipal taxes and water sewer are second highest in the state.”
Council agreed to continue discussing city debt at a later meeting and to consider funding some future capital projects without increasing debt.
Sacher presented an overview of city pension plans. He described benefits and pension plans as generous, asking councilors to consider reviewing them as the city goes forward.
“Benefits are a death sentence for cities,” said Councilor Amadeo Patricca after the presentation. “We need a survival plan for Marco Island.”
Lee Rubenstein and Charles Hartman of the Veterans’ Memorial Fundraising Committee presented plans for a new freedom fountain and flag plaza in Veterans’ Community Park. The group was given permission by council to raise funds for the projects through the Community Foundation of Collier County.