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The Marco Island City Council hosted its first budget workshop Wednesday with the intent of establishing its priorities for the upcoming fiscal year.

Finance Director and Interim City Manager Gil Polanco opened the workshop with a six month budget status of Fiscal Year 2017. He noted that the city's general fund revenues is currently $407,658 less than what it was expecting.

However, he also noted that nearly all departments are coming in "way below their budget" with the exception of the administration, which is due to the severance package of former city manager Roger Hernstadt. 

More: Marco City Council accepts severance pact with former City Manager Roger Hernstadt

At that point, the council began discussing the various departments, and what began as a discussion of the Fire-Rescue Department’s budget quickly turned into a debate regarding the merits of obtaining a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (COPCN), which would allow the city to provide its own ambulance service should the county decide to consolidate its resources.

Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murphy has been vocal in his support of applying for a COPCN, making the argument that as it currently stands, Marco Island is not receiving quality service from the county, and consolidation would only make matters worse.

However, some of the councilors – and the county commissioners – have rejected the notion that Marco Island is receiving subpar service, which is why they believe the COPCN issue is more a matter of control and home rule than quality of service.

More: Collier County, Marco Island officials meet for first time in a few years

“My problem is the county uses nationally-acceptable standards for quality of service,” Chair Larry Honig said, “and those … standards prove that Marco Island is either number one or number two in the county (so) our citizens on Marco Island receive either the best or second best service in Collier County.”

Murphy conceded that “nobody’s going to die in the streets,” but said he still believes it’s within the city’s best interests to obtain a COPCN, especially since the four to eight minute response time the county frequently boasts doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story.

“The issue that really we are trying to improve upon is patient contact, not response time,” Murphy said. “The eight minute response time the county uses … is the travel time from the front of the fire station to the front of the building (but) if you’re on the tenth floor of a high-rise, you can add four more minutes to that.”

After a few more minutes of back-and forth, the councilors ultimately decided to move on, agreeing that the budget workshop is neither the time nor place to continue to delve into the details of a COPCN.

The Marco Island Police Department (MIPD) was next to present, and Chief Al Schettino said his department is mostly looking to “maintain the status quo,” but he did ask for a $3,700 increase for the police force and a $5,000 increase for code enforcement.

Schettino said he would provide the councilors with a more detailed list of the department’s priorities at the following budget workshop, which will focus on operational expenses.

Council’s next meeting is 5:30 p.m. June 5 in its chambers, 51 Bald Eagle Drive.

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