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Despite adopting the millage rate at rollback, the city of Marco Island has freed up enough money to implement the city’s strategic plan and address the city’s needs.

The City Council unanimously voted Tuesday evening to adopt the tentative millage rate at rollback and approve the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 2020.

Former City Manager David Harden presented highlights of the proposed budget that took into account the goals and priorities set by both the council and staff during work sessions which took place over the summer as well as recommendations from advisory committees.

“I recommend this budget and with your guidance, it now incorporates numerous initiatives for implementing your strategic plan and addresses the most pressing needs of the city,” Harden said.

The upcoming fiscal year’s budget sees a 5.5 percent increase in operating expenses, up to nearly $21.5 million.

More: Marco Island waterways added to state impairment list after elected official contacts DEP

Harden’s summary included two subjects relevant to the current news cycle: water quality and hurricane resiliency.

Marco Island’s waterways were recently added to the state’s impairment list after nitrogen levels exceeded standards established by the Department of Environmental Protection for the second straight year.

For a waterbody to be considered impaired, it must exceed nutrient standards for two out of the past three years.

As part of next year’s budget, the city will kick in $24,000 to increase surface water testing from a quarterly to monthly basis.

It will also spend $100,000 for stormwater management, $100,000 for a swale assessment problem analysis, $60,000 for wastewater plant and reuse water upgrades and $50,000 for median remodeling.

Taking recommendations from the ad hoc hurricane committee, the city will establish an emergency management budget for hurricane response and will make appropriate purchases such as fuel tanks and a small excavator.

The largest percentage increase comes in the form of legal services, which Harden said made the budget more realistic.

More: Monetary costs for failure to hire and retain permanent city manager exceed $156K

Last year, the city’s legal budget exceeded projections by nearly 50 percent, marking a trend over the past few years. Two years ago, the legal services saw a large increase in work as the city was forced to navigate issues tied to the termination of former City Manager Lee Niblock and his criminal battery case.

During the current fiscal year, the city has been engaged in numerous workplace issues, including lawsuits from current and former employees, as well as misconduct issues in the city’s public safety departments.

Although an equal employment opportunity commission investigator could not substantiate discrimination, harassment and intimidation claims made by police records clerk Heather Comparini, a federal lawsuit against the city is expected in the coming weeks.

The city’s budget also takes into account plans for the use the 7-year countywide one percent sales tax surcharge, which was voted into effect last year.

Although Marco Island residents opposed the tax, the funds will be put to good use.

Over the life of the tax surcharge, the city has proposed using $8 million toward the replacement of Fire Station 50, which was also recommended by the hurricane committee.

With the master plan for Veterans Community Park being recently redesigned and approved, much of the high costs to implement those improvements can be taken care with $7,000,000 of the tax surcharge being proposed for its development.

Council Chairman Erik Brechnitz lauded Harden for his work, having guided the city through the budget process as the city was also transitioning in new leadership in the city manager’s office.

“Thanks so much for your mature leadership and your guidance through the budget process,” Brechnitz said. “It was well thought out and efficient.”

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