Marco Island City Council approves budget at roll-back rate

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle
The Marco Island City Council has approved next year's budget at the roll-back rate. Next year's budget includes three percent raises for all bargaining and non-bargaining employees.

The Marco Island City Council has shot down a proposal that would have dramatically increased salaries for city employees next year. 

As expected, the City Council approved the second reading of an ordinance that set millage at the roll-back rate of 1.8492. The proposed budget that goes along with that figure includes a three percent raise for all employees, but for two councilors, that was not enough.

Councilors Bob Brown and Howard Reed supported a motion to increase employee compensation by 10 percent but their sentiments were not shared by others on the council as the proposal would have meant making cuts from other areas in the budget.

“I don’t know how we’re going to find this money, but there is a quality of life for the people of Marco Island issue tied to Councilor Brown’s motion,” Reed said. “... We only have so many people. They’re working hard and doing an excellent job, but we need more people and we need to attract and retain more and better people and that takes money.”

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Next year’s general fund includes a budget of $25.7 million of which the majority, $14.8 million, is tied up in personnel costs.

In addition to increasing compensation to help aid in providing a more competitive wage and improve retention, the city has also had to adjust to increases in health and insurance costs.

In July, the council set the maximum millage rate at roll-back plus the estimated costs of funding locally controlled emergency medical services. At that time, the majority of City Council expressed support for pursuing the roll-back rate in the event voters shot down the EMS proposal.

On Aug. 28, the EMS vote failed by a margin of 440 votes, which prompted the council to revisit its previous discussion. Although the vote failed, Reed suggested using the maximum millage rate to increase the level of services in the city.

Reed told the council that he saw a consistent pattern of it starving the city of resources, which was why he cast a dissenting vote for supporting the roll-back rate.

On Monday, Councilor Larry Honig responded to Reed’s comments by recapping the last 10 years on Marco Island in which the population had only increased by 220 people.

“We’ve added 453 customers that buy water,” Honig said. “In the meantime, the city’s budget is up 15 percent. The number of city employees is up 15 percent. The budget dollar amount has increased by $2.6 million, which is hardly starving.”

In reviewing changes in personnel, Honig said that there were four additional police officers despite calls for service decreasing by 33 percent, 7.5 additional code enforcement employees and six additional firefighters. For the 453 water and sewer customers, that department has seen an increase of 8.5 employees.

The building department has seen the addition of seven employees as well, but Honig said those could be justified because the city has encountered twice the number of permits.

Additionally, in the time that has elapsed since former City Manager Roger Hernstadt resigned, the city’s budget has increased $1.274 million, or seven percent.

“It would be going backward for this council to micromanage what the manager decides to do with salaries, and it would be a mistake for us on council and the community to think that we have a consistent pattern of starving the city of resources,” Honig said. 

Council Chairperson Jared Grifoni agreed with Honig’s assessment that the city was not starving itself of resources. Grifoni said it was a question of how the city is allocating its resources.

“If that’s the question, we need to spend some significant time actually looking into it and perhaps in the next budget cycle, we need to take a different approach than what we’ve done the last couple of years and really get down into the weeds and make sure we have the priorities of the citizens of Marco Island intact,” Grifoni said. “A priority I can tell you is not just to raise their taxes. We saw it with the COPCN and we’re going to see it with the sales tax.”