Marco Island to request $425,000 in state funds for San Marco Road water project

Ron Book, the city's lobbyist, speaks to Marco Island City Council via the video conference application Zoom during a council meeting on Nov. 19, 2020.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect Marco Island City Council's motion added supporting sovereign immunity as one of its legislative priorities.

The city of Marco Island will request $425,000 in state funds for the San Marco Road tide leveling and flushing project as city leaders prepare to meet with state legislators in December.

The city would spend an additional $325,000 in city funds to complete the project.

The project involves installing dual 48-inch pipe culverts and an inlet structure under the San Marco Road, between Landmark Street and Copperfield Court, using an existing easement to link two large water basins separated by the roadway, said Timothy Pinter, director of the Public Works Department.

If completed, the project would increase the amount of oxygen in the canal waters, improving the habitats for fish and wildlife, and reduce street flooding by allowing the water to circulate from one basin to another and vice versa, according to the city's request.

The San Marco Road tide leveling and flushing project involves installing dual 48-inch pipe culverts and an inlet structure between the two basins under the roadway, between Landmark Street and Copperfield Court, using an existing easement.

City Council selected the water quality project as a priority on Thursday after it was recommended by city staff and Ron Book, the city's lobbyist, who spoke to council via the video conference application Zoom.

Pinter said the project is part of the city's 10-year master plan for drainage improvements.

"This was next in the priority list," he said.

Book said the city should request under $500,000 in state funds for a single project that would create local jobs because funding will be limited due to the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on state revenues.

"It's no secret that we got a monster revenue shortfall," he said.

City Council Chairman Jared Grifoni agreed with Book.

 "I think the pickens are going to be a little slim this year, and our focus needs to be really tight in order to have the most success," Grifoni said.

In June, Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a $650,000 appropriation for the replacement of Marco Island's main fire station. DeSantis cut $1 billion in state spending due to the state's expected economic hit from the COVID-19 virus, resulting in a $92.2 billion state budget for fiscal 2020-21.

Two other appropriations to improve water quality in the city's canals never reached DeSantis' desk, including the San Marco Road water project.

Florida's Department of Environmental Protection put the city of Marco Island on notice last year that its waterways are impaired and in need of a corrective plan.

In January, City Council approved a contract for the first phase of a study to evaluate and assess the source of nutrients affecting local waterways.

The water quality engineering firm Environmental Research and Design will submit a draft of the study to the city in March or April of next year and submit a final report in August or September, said Jason Tomassetti, the city's stormwater engineer.

On Thursday, City Council also directed staff to identify a transportation project to submit for state funding in case the San Marco water project is unsuccessful in getting legislative approval.

The Collier County legislative delegation meeting is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 4 at North Collier Regional Park, according to Florida League of Cities' website. The deadline for submitting local bills to the delegation is Nov. 20.

Sovereign immunity

As part of the city's legislative priorities, City Council included supporting sovereign immunity, a state law which prohibits individuals from suing the state and its agencies, municipalities included, "in order to recover civil remedies – such as money damages – for injuries stemming from the performance of official government duties," according to the law firm Clark Fountain's website.

The law waives sovereign immunity "for personal injuries caused by the negligent actions of the state committed within the course and scope of carrying out official government acts," but it also places caps on the amount plaintiffs can recover, according to the website.

Book said there are "continued talks" to abolish or increasing the caps.

"If I were a city manager, if I were a finance director, I would be deeply concerned," he said.

Vice Chair Greg Folley said he was very concerned.

"It would be a real mess for us if that was eliminated," he said.

Other legislative priorities left out

City Council did not include among its legislative priorities to support Florida League of Cities' own legislative priorities as it was recommended by city staff. The league is an organization that advocates for municipal governments.

The league's priorities include supporting legislation that "facilitates the municipal annexation of unincorporated areas, while protecting private property rights and respecting municipal boundaries," among others.

City Council Erik Brechnitz said he is reluctant to support it.

"I think it is a huge invasion of property rights," he said.

Brechnitz said he did not have a problem in supporting the rest of the league's priorities but that he needed more information to make a decision.

"I don't know what the details are of those proposals, and the devil is in the details," he said.

Among the league's legislative priorities is to support state legislation that would allow cities to amend ordinances or draft new ones to regulate vacation rentals.

The league announced earlier this month one of its legislative priorities is to support legislation for a collaboration between the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and cities "to ensure that short-term rental properties abide by state and local regulations, are properly licensed and insured, and comply with state and local taxation requirements, as well as industry-accepted safety practices," according to a recent news release.

The league also wrote it supports legislation "clarifying that existing, grandfathered municipal short-term rental ordinances can be amended without penalty."

The city is also seeking a data sharing agreement between state, county and local agencies to identify all vacation rental properties and collect tax collection data, according to a city report.

In most cases, property owners or their authorized representatives must register with the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation, according to state law. Local governments can't prohibit vacation rentals or regulate the duration or frequency unless a local ordinance or law was passed on or before June 1, 2011.

Through September, the city has received 379 more noise complaints than it did all of last year. There were 759 noise calls or complaints, and 192 of them (as of mid September) were confirmed, according to the Marco Island Police Department.

That’s compared to last year, when the city received 380 calls and confirmed 281 and in 2018 when it received 370 calls and confirmed 107.

Police Chief Tracy L. Frazzano said during a council meeting in October that loud music in residences is the most prevalent cause of complaints, and that most are at night.

In that meeting, City Council approved amendments to the city's noise ordinance, bringing back decibel and time limits in an attempt to reduce noise complaints as they continue to grow.

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