Marco City Council to aggressively pursue COPCN

John Osborne

Marco Island City Council is revving up efforts to exercise more control over the city’s ambulance services.

The Marco Island Planning Board met Friday and unanimously approved a site-development plan for a new firehouse at 751 East Elkcam Circle.

In the aftermath of a May meeting with Collier County Commissioners, councilors on Monday voted 6-1 to take a three-pronged approach to the issue of pursuing a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (COPCN.) Such a certificate would allow the city to operate its own ambulance services rather than relying on the county.

More:Collier County, Marco Island officials meet

Councilor Charlette Roman registered the lone “no” vote on the issue, citing what she termed a lack of complete information.

In addition to pursuing a COPCN, the city plans to ask the county for a second full-time ambulance to replace a part-time ambulance that currently operates during season.

“We have a part-time ambulance that operates December to April for 12 hours a day, which adds up to 1,400 hours,” Vice-Chair Jared Grifoni, author of the successful, multi-pronged resolution, said. “That leaves 7,300 hours that there’s only one unit on the island, and that doesn’t even take into account when the unit is moved off island based on need elsewhere.”

Grifoni said the third and final prong of the resolution would help mitigate against the possibility of an uncooperative Collier County.

Jared Grifoni

“I’d also like to engage our lobbyists and begin the process for the potential of setting as a legislative priority amending state law to achieve the granting of a COPCN through the municipality rather than through the county,” he said.

Grifoni said that action would serve as an important bargaining chip with the county.

“Right now, if we don’t work something out with the county, if we don’t get their permission, we get nothing,” he said. “This allows us the opportunity to maneuver and make sure we deliver the best possible services to the citizens of Marco Island.”

More:Consultant recommends city move forward with COPCN

If the county does wind up giving the OK to a second full-time ambulance, Grifoni said the city could put that particular card back in the deck.

“If we get the second ambulance through Collier County, we may not want to go through the state legislature any longer,” he said.

Essentially, it all boiled down to the safety of Marco Island residents.

“I don’t want to see the citizens of Marco Island backed into a corner, especially when it comes to making sure life-saving equipment and individuals are there to help them in their most significant time of need,” he said. “We can’t leave that up to politics.”

More:Marco Council begins talking 2018 budget

Although he eventually voted in favor of the resolution, councilor Howard Reed expressed concern with how the county might react to such an aggressive approach.

“We’re going to ask county commissioners to do a lot of things for us, to evaluate with an open mind our COPCN application and perhaps to give us a second ambulance and staff to run it, and at the same time we’re going over their head,” he said. “Telling them, ‘By the way, if we don’t get what we want we’re going to the state.’ I think that sends the wrong message.”

But Chair Larry Honig said he believed Marco Island is entitled to even more than its current asking price.

“I don’t think we’re being aggressive enough,” he said. “Marco Island accounts for five percent of the county’s population, and at the same time accounts for 12 percent of the collected revenue. We’re a very strong contributor to the county.”

Citing an aging population and increased number of calls for emergency services, Honig said the city actually needs three full-time ambulances.

“That’s why I like the three-pronged approach,” he said. “We need to play every damn card we’ve got. We’ve got a car with three accelerator pedals, so let’s push them. Let’s go.”

Marco Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murphy agreed.

“When this city became a city in 1997, I have a picture from the Marco Island Eagle that shows one ambulance coming into the station with two people staffing it,” he said, noting that 68 percent of the island’s emergency calls require transportation to area hospitals. “Twenty years later, we still have that one ambulance with two people staffing it.”

In other business, council unanimously approved the rezoning of Veterans Community Park from a planned unit development (PUD) to a park.

Council's next meeting is 5:30 p.m. June 19 in the community room, 51 Bald Eagle Drive.