Tough questions face Marco Island Council at budget time

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle

Chairman Jared Grifoni called it a “gut-check” moment for Marco Island City Council.

Marco Island’s proposed operating budget of $20.2 million comes in $1 million over last year’s budget but does not include over $4 million in add-on requests from departments and committees that have some members of the council questioning its priorities.

City hall campus at Bald Eagle Drive and San Marco Road.

“We really need to take a close look at the add-ons and deep within ourselves and the community as to how much we are going to assess and take out of their pockets every single month from here until the next fiscal year,” Grifoni said during Wednesday’s budget workshop. “I want to find what we can do within the confines of what we have, which is more than reasonable.”

More:City of Marco discusses 2018 budget, puts its people first

More:Marco Council begins talking 2018 budget

The 2019 projected budget is based upon the rollback rate, which is the highest amount the city can assess without asking its taxpayers to pay for additional services.

Half of the city’s departments made presentations during the first workshop including both public safety departments, which outlined important initiatives for the coming year.

Marco Island Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murphy

Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murphy said that the renovation of Station 50 was the top priority, going as far as to call it a “morale killer.”

“We are constantly putting Band-Aids on this building,” Murphy said. “Currently, we are actually tenting the building because of termites. We’re also having a structural engineer come in and evaluate the building because initially when the termite people came in, they indicated there might be some additional damage to the building.”

The fire department’s budget does not include adding personnel as part of increasing ambulance service on Marco Island and taking local control of its emergency medical services.

Those budgetary items are included in the add-on requests; voters will determine Aug. 28 whether they agree to pay an additional $100 per $500,000 taxable property values to finance a local EMS system.

As part of the police department’s budget, Chief Al Schettino detailed two major security improvements he wanted to make to city buildings.

The first was an updated video surveillance system for the main city campus, which was budgeted at $80,000.

The second was making structural changes to the lobby in City Hall that provide a more secure environment for employees and prevent people from having access to certain areas.

One department budget that was of particular interest to the City Council was the Building Department.

Since Hurricane Irma devastated Marco Island, the city has faced a bevy of complaints about how long it was taking to get permits processed.

Chief Building Official Raul Perez presented data that showed not only was the department inundated with permit applications but it was also performing inspections well-above previous years.

Perez said that applications and inspection requests had yet to taper off despite the one year anniversary of the hurricane approaching.

While the number of full-time employees budgeted for has not changed, Perez requested an additional $524,000 for temporary staffing to meet up with demand.

In providing a synopsis of the preliminary budget, acting City Manager Guillermo Polanco said that there were a few items that were not adequately addressed including:

  • Veteran's Community Park’s 5-year capital needs 
  • Street repair and replacement fund not adequate to cover true needs
Marco Island city councilor Larry Honig

Following the presentation, Councilor Larry Honig expressed concerns with the budget process, calling it somewhat backward because it should be the Council that set the overall spending level and openly discuss priorities.

Honig was particularly concerned that it appeared the previous year’s budget had become the baseline for becoming this year’s budget, which he noted creates ratcheting up effect.

In comparing previous years’ budget, Honig said that the main difference was that city continues to increase its workforce and said if it used the 2016 budget, it would have been able to accommodate the add-on requests.

Given the financial burden Hurricane Irma placed on Marco Island residents, Honig said he was opposed to asking them for more of their tax dollars this year.

“This is not the year to be heroic and spend a lot of taxpayers’ money,” Honig said. “A lot of people out there need their money to repair their roofs and cages and rebuild their lives.”

With the amount of time expended by committees and commissions, Grifoni said that the city might need to take a harder look their requests or provide greater detail to them about what the Council was looking for them to provide.

From what he saw, Grifoni said that some of the add-on requests might be of more importance than what was included in the budget.

Polanco disputed Grifoni’s comment that the city looked at spending its whole budget before considering the add-on requests by noting that personnel costs were estimated to rise by 3 percent while healthcare costs are projected to rise by 20 percent.

“We have a level of service that we have to maintain,” Polanco said. “You have contracted people, police and fire, and we have to honor those contracts. We start off there and that is the base.”’

The Marco Island City Council will continue budget discussions July 9.