Marco Council not backing down from position on ad valorem taxes

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle
Marco Island firefighters respond to a medical emergency in this file photo. The Marco Island City Council voted 7-0 Tuesday to apply for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (COPCN), which would put the city in charge of its own ambulance services.

The city of Marco Island continues to stand firm against one of the conditions the Collier County Board of Commissioners has added to the approval of its Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity application.

Not only did the City Council unanimously approve an amendment to the proposed interlocal agreement with Collier County for its COPCN, it is drafting a letter to the county to express its sentiments regarding the proposed terms and reiterate its belief that the county was unfair to ask Marco Island to forego recouping any ad valorem taxes.

"This Council was clear that we would not support giving up the citizens' rights or the city's rights for an equitable and just accounting of taxpayer dollars with respect to EMS services," Chairman Jared Grifoni said.  

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

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

More:COPCN debate continues ahead of Collier County BOC action

Marco Island has long sought additional ambulance service in the city and as a way to obtain those services, it developed a plan last year to create its own EMS system by obtaining a license through the county or the state's Department of Health.

Local legislators aided the process by working on a local bill, which was signed by Gov. Rick Scott in March, that allowed Marco Island to apply to the state for its COPCN license if the county did not approve Marco Island's COPCN application.

Last month, the commissioners approved Marco Island's COPCN application but attached two conditions to its vote.

One was approval of the referendum on Aug. 28 that asks Marco Island voters if they would support additional taxation of $100 per $500,000 taxable valuation to fund the services.

The other condition was the city agreeing not to seek reimbursement of ad valorem taxes it pays to the county.

While Marco Island has never made a declaration that it was looking to recoup taxes, it previously objected to that kind of condition because it gives up the rights of citizens and the county has never sought to impose the same condition on other COPCN applicants.

Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murphy said that while the county issued a COPCN license to the Seminole Tribe, not only was the ad valorem tax issue not part of an agreement but the county never executed an interlocal agreement with it.

Murphy added that the county also renewed the Seminole Tribe's license without having an interlocal agreement in place.

City Attorney Alan Gabriel said that part of the issue was understanding how the state would interpret approval given that Marco Island is not comfortable with some of the conditions.

"What is approval is really going to be the $2 question," Gabriel said. "It will have to be addressed at some point because technically if the issue a COPCN to you with conditions that are not acceptable to you, does that mean approval by the county?"

Gabriel suggested the City Council send back the agreement with an amendment and state why it feels the conditions are not acceptable because it might serve well if the city needs to turn to the health department for its license.

Grifoni said the last thing either side wanted to see was litigation over the taxation issue and expressed optimism that the city and county could work out its disagreements.

"This isn't to say we're going to bring the hammer down on the county on day one," Grifoni said. "Nobody has suggested that but we shouldn't be tying the hands of the citizens of Marco Island forever because the county is unwilling to a COPCN as they've granted one to others in the past, simply because Marco Island has stepped out of line and suggested we want to provide something more than what the county is providing."

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

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

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