Conditional approval of COPCN raises more questions for Marco Island City Council

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle
A Collier County EMS ambulance sits inside Marco Island's Station 50. The City of Marco Island is exploring the possibliity of seeking its own ambulance service. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

The Collier County Board of Commissioners conditional approval of Marco Island's Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity application does not mean a locally controlled EMS system is a done deal.

Not only will the voters have to approve the Aug. 28 referendum that allows the city to assess an additional $100 per $500,000 taxable property value but the City Council will have to make a decision on whether Marco Island will give up its right to recoup ad valorem taxes it pays to Collier County.

Council Chairperson Jared Grifoni intends to place a discussion of the issues on the agenda of the council’s July 16 meeting and gain further legal clarification for how the county’s conditional approval affects the local bill signed by Gov. Rick Scott in March.

That bill allows the city to apply to the State Health Department if its county application is not approved.

“The main concern was how conditional approval affects us moving forward,” Grifoni said. “I want to have the City Attorney (Alan Gabriel) provide his legal opinion on the language of the local bill. I think the intent of the bill is clear: an honest, true and reasonable path for allowing ambulance transport.”

More:What's not in interlocal agreement may become sticking point for Marco COPCN application

More:Marco Island, Collier County continue back-and-forth on ambulance issue

More:County commissioners conditionally approve Marco Island ambulance application

Marco Island has been on a long path to gain additional EMS services. Collier County had maintained that the city did not need an additional ambulance, which prompted the city to approve a three-prong approach to make it happen.

The approach included continued negotiations with the county, submitting a COPCN application to the county and working with local legislators on a bill that would allow the city to bypass the need for county approval.

The local bill required a third-party financial analysis, a COPCN application to the county and for voter approval of the referendum on Aug. 28.

The commissioners conditionally approved Marco Island’s COPCN application by a 4-1 vote last month with the caveat that Marco Island voters had to approve the referendum and the city would not seek to recoup taxes as permitted through Alsdorf v. Broward County.

Prior to the conditional approval, the county and city staffs worked to create the framework of an interlocal agreement, which was closely based off the county’s agreement with the Seminole Tribe, if Marco Island was to operate its own EMS system.

If Marco Island has to apply to the state for its COPCN, Grifoni said while it would not be subject to those terms, it would still require the city and county to come to terms on an interlocal agreement in some form.

Conditional approval, however, has raised questions about what that means for Marco Island should it not agree to the taxation issue.

The first is if conditional approval has any effect on the language of the local bill that states the city’s application is “unapproved.”

The second is whether Marco Island will agree to the county’s terms on the ad valorem tax issue.

During last month’s council meeting, the City Council stated it would not give up its rights ahead of the Board of Commissioners vote.

Grifoni said there were two main issues with the county’s request.

“It's unfair treatment on the city of Marco Island,” Grifoni said. “The other question is if that is enforceable. The city can't give up the rights of citizens to petition its local government for adequate representation of tax dollars.”

Grifoni noted that the taxation issue was not part of the referendum nor was it part of any other COPCN approval the county has granted in the past.

He also said it's unclear how the county is going to use those tax dollars.

“If the county can justify use of tax dollars, there wouldn't be an argument,” Grifoni said.

More:Leaders push for increasing level of care at Marco Island ambulance town hall

More:EMA board recommends conditional COPCN for Marco Island

More:County to city: You don't need a second ambulance