Marco Island Council sends new COPCN interlocal agreement back to county

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle

Ahead of the Aug. 28 vote that will determine if Marco Island will establish its own emergency medical services, the Marco Island City Council has approved a new interlocal agreement by a 6-1 vote and sent it back to the Collier County for its signature.

The city and county staffs had originally agreed to terms but additional items were required by the Board of Commissioners at its June 26 meeting when it conditionally approved Marco Island’s Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity application.

At the commission meeting, the board chose to add terms into the agreement such as voter approval of the Aug. 28 referendum and Marco Island stipulating not to seek reimbursement of ad valorem taxes from the county for EMS services.

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Marco Island has sought additional ambulance service for years but in the past, the county has deemed it unnecessary. Currently, the city has one full-time ambulance and a second during season.

In its attempt to procure greater service, the city approved a plan last year that included submitting a COPCN application to the county, continuing negotiations with the county and working with legislators on a bill that would allow the city to apply to the state if the county denied its application.

Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill in late March that set the stage for the referendum to take place on Aug. 28.

In the language of the referendum, it asks voters if they approve of additional taxes at a rate of $100 per $500,000 taxable value to finance the local EMS system. An enterprise fund would be established to ensure these tax dollars were allocated to the service.

While the county expressed its reluctance to approve the city’s application, the major condition it placed was on reimbursement of ad valorem taxes. Case law in Broward County established that citizens and cities could seek to recoup some of these taxes because it represented double taxation when the county’s services were not being utilized.

Over the past few months, the City Council has been opposed to placing a tax condition in an agreement because it would not give up any rights in perpetuity.

But with Marco Island requiring the use of the county’s services for much of 2019 before its service can get started, it has agreed not to seek reimbursement in the first year of its COPCN.

“City Council strongly believes that the ‘ad valorem tax’ issue should not be attached as a condition to the COPCN, or the Interlocal Agreement,” acting City Manager Guillermo Polanco wrote in a letter to County Manager Leo Ochs. “It should be noted that the county’s proposed Interlocal Agreement did not reflect the amendment to the original motion. 

“However, in an attempt to satisfy both the Commission’s and the City Council’s concerns, the City Council has reinserted that language into the Interlocal Agreement and is willing to accept that provision. The city understands that, at a minimum, the county will continue to provide services during the start-up phase of the first year.”

While much of Monday’s discussion centered on items that were not in the agreement, the discussion on its local EMS system will continue because there are a few unanswered questions.

One is how much Marco Island will charge its residents for transport.

Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murphy noted that the Fitch & Associates report estimated the city would gain $952,000 on average over three years but it was still up to the city to determine what it would charge, which it would do so through a billing ordinance.

Murphy said one of the benefits lost in the discussion was that currently ambulances transporting Marco Island patients were staffed with at least 50 percent local personnel yet none of the fees come back to the city.

“We retain nothing for putting our personnel on that ambulance,” Murphy said. 

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