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Two new committees are joining Marco Island's roster: a water-sewer options committee and an ad hoc parking solutions committee.

The Marco Island City Council created the new committees at its meeting Monday night. Chairman Larry Honig first suggested the water-sewer options committee at the Jan. 9 council meeting, citing the city's need to consult with experts on the issue of the water-sewer utility rates.

"City councils over the years have wrestled with this matter," he said Monday. "We know that our utility total debt per Marco Island resident is among the highest in Florida."

As a result, the rates on Marco Island are extremely high, he said. The city has undertaken numerous rate studies in the past, but none have generated solutions that were amicable to all members of the council, which is why it's time to form a committee that's solely dedicated to the issue and devoid of politics.

"A number of us have tried to float creative solutions, but we continue to run into - we should just admit it - we run into plain old politics," Honig said, which is why he suggested a cohesive five-member committee rather than a traditional seven-member committee to which each councilor appoints a member.

Councilor Charlette Roman said the idea of a five-member committee is "a step in a new direction," but councilor Joe Batte said that it's a step in the wrong direction, and could make politics on the island even worse.

"I fear what you're doing here is creating a new precedent. Let's face it, the four of you think very similar," he said, referring to Honig, Roman, Howard Reed and Vice-Chair Jared Grifoni, who ran as a slate in November's election. "And when you pick five people, my fear is those five people are people you like, and there's a problem with that."

Council ultimately approved the committee 6-1, with councilor Bob Brown dissenting.

Similarly, the council created a five-member ad hoc parking solutions committee to address the island's ongoing parking issues.

Roman, who suggested the committee earlier this year, proposed that each seat of the committee be designated for a specific cross-section of Marco Island: one seat for a restaurant owner; one seat for a retail business owner; one seat for a representative of the tourism and hospitality industry; and two seats, and one alternate seat, for community members with no business affiliations.

However, councilor Victor Rios expressed concern that there were too many seats for business owners who might only be interested in solutions that benefit them rather than the city's taxpayers.

"There's too many business people represented," he said. "Many of our business owners ... do not live in Marco Island, (so) I think there has to be some other skin in the game, (like) more regular taxpayers or citizens who aren't business owners."

Reed agreed, and suggested that the committee be comprised of the five most qualified Marco Island residents, regardless of their "cross-section."

Council ultimately approved the committee 6-1, with Brown dissenting.

In other business

Council discussed conducting a staff organizational climate survey. Several of the councilors said that although the survey is good idea, it's bad timing given the amount of staff turnover the city has experienced the past several months; however, other councilors argued that that's precisely why it is good timing.

"I think the high turnover ... is (a clear indicator) that we are not creating the climate that makes our staff want to stay," Roman said, noting that one department has lost six people just within the last few months. "This high turnover is problem (and) the root cause as to why we have challenges...in so many areas."

The city's boards and committees have also seen their fair share of resignations, the most recent of which was Planning Board member Hector Fernandez, whom Grifoni had appointed just last month.

Council approved issuing a request for proposal for a staff organizational climate survey 5-2, with Brown and Batte dissenting.

Council also unanimously approved a resolution ratifying the purchase order for the Fourth of July fireworks display and approved an amendment to the Collier Countywide Automatic Aid/Closest Unit Response and Mutual Aid for Fire and Rescue Services agreement.

The next council meeting is 5:30 p.m. April 3 in the community room, 51 Bald Eagle Drive.

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