Also declares October Domestic Violence Awareness month

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The Marco Island City Council met Monday and adopted the budget for next year. It also agreed to reduce the property tax rate after land values throughout the city increased during the past year.

The city's general fund budget – which pays for basic services and funds City Manager Roger Hernstadt’s bucket plan – will increase to $25.6 million from the current budget projected to total $23.5 million by the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30, and the city-wide budget – which includes utilities – will decrease to $64.6 million compared to last year’s $65.6 million.

The city's budget for the next year reduces the property millage by .05 to 1.9966, keeping property taxes about the same for homeowners whose primary residence is on the island. The Council approved both the budget and the millage rate 4-2, with councilors Larry Honig and Victor Rios dissenting and councilor Joe Batte absent.

In the past both Honig and Rios have expressed concerns about the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee’s request of $250,000, which is designated for Veterans Community Park. Honig wanted to ensure that the money be put towards updating the park’s master plan and Rios wanted to remove the money from the budget entirely because he’s worried that it will become part of the divisive Veterans Community Park hotel project.

Citizens have also expressed concern about the $250,000, namely that the money will become an annual budget item as part of the hotel developer’s $1 million loan request.

Marco Island Finance Director Gil Polanco said the $250,000 is not a recurring annual expense; like all departments and committees, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee has to submit a budget request each year, he said, and the City Council always has the power to deny a request.

Jerry Swiacki, chair of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, spoke at the meeting and reminded citizens that the Planning Board has not made a recommendation on the project yet; therefore, neither he nor the councilors have a position on it, despite rumors indicating otherwise.

“I implore that the City Council and all of the citizens of Marco Island take a deep breath, sit back and let the process work itself out,” he said.

Hernstadt also assured the public that he, too, has no position on the issue.

“I have no dog in this fight,” he said.

In other business, the City Council unanimously approved the budget and millage rate for Hideaway Beach Special Taxing District. The Council also issued a proclamation declaring October Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“One in four women are abused by an intimate partner and three or more women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in this county every day,” Chairman Bob Brown read at the meeting. “The City of Marco Island is committed to taking a firm position against domestic violence and will remain focused on ensuring that women and children are safe in their homes and abusers are held accountable for their crimes.”

The Council also approved a site development plan to expand the outdoor seating area at Doreen’s Cup of Joe and to reconfigure and connect the parking lots in front of the restaurant.

The City Council’s next meeting is at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 4 in observation of Rosh Hashanah, which begins at sunset the Sunday prior.

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