City won’t seek state funds for Vets Park building

Steve Stefanides

The debate over whether or not to seek $2.5 million from the state to build a $7.5 million public-use facility at Veterans Community Park may be over.

Veterans Community Park.

The building would have housed meeting space for civic organizations, a small museum for local veterans memorabilia, a deck for musical performances and the potential for closing in the open space on the ground level should the future needs require additional space.

On Monday, City Manager Roger Hernstadt will present a proposed package for the Marco Island City Council’s review that includes requests for $2.77 million in state funds for three projects – but $2.5 million for the multiuse building won’t be sought and the project will not be pursued at this time.

A majority of council had originally given Hernstadt the green light to proceed with the Vets Park building earlier this year, but the idea ran afoul of residents when the issue of the loss of “greenspace” in the park sparked a vocal debate.

Veterans also were concerned they had not been part of that planning process and felt slighted for not being involved in the early conversations.

On the council agenda for Monday evening is a resolution for the approval of the projects that will be sought by the city’s lobbyist when the new session of the legislature convenes in January 2016. That list, if approved, would then be submitted to the Collier County legislative delegation.

City staff will seek state funds for these projects:

• $1 million for legislative funding for the replacement of Marco Island Fire/Rescue Station 51. The aging building is in poor condition and has been an integral part of improving response times to Old Marco, Hideaway Beach, the Town Center area as well as the North Collier Boulevard corridor. That station also houses the crew that responds to marine emergencies. The city would have to match the state funds with another $1 million to complete the project.

• A $1.55 million request for a wastewater grant that would need a similar match from city utility department capital improvement project funds.

• A $229,140 request for a storm sewer grant which would be matched with a similar amount from local funds.

The city would be seeking a total of $2,779,140 to carry out these projects from state funding while matching a similar amount either from utility funds already in hand or local tax dollars from the budgeting process, staff said.

Historically communities and counties from around the state have taken advantage of the lobbying of legislators on behalf of their constituents and brought home millions of dollars to help fund projects within their jurisdictions. Last year the city’s lobbyist helped to bring a half a million dollars in revenue for wastewater projects, in addition to $2.5 million for the multiuse facility in Vets Park.

But Gov. Scott vetoed the appropriation.

“We were that close to bringing home a decent amount of money for Marco Island taxpayers,” said council member Ken Honecker.

Scott vetoed a total of $461 million from the $78.2 billion dollar budget last year, angering many Florida Republicans.

Monday’s council meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers behind city hall on Bald Eagle Drive.