Contentious council comes to terms on taxes, nautical garages

John Osborne

The Marco Island City Council may have needed an infusion of electrolytes on Monday night following a marathon meeting that stretched more than five hours.

Marco Island City Hall

Once the finish-line tape had finally been broken and everyone had a chance to catch their breath, a pair of notable resolutions emerged from the often-contentious meeting that featured flaring tempers and verbal dust ups between councilors, the city attorney and the interim city manager.

Council’s first resolution was to approve, in a 4-3 vote, the preliminary disclosure of a maximum Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 millage rate of 1.8976 for trim notices. Trim notices are mailings sent to taxpayers comparing current and proposed taxes at different millage rates.

The fiscal year begins Oct. 1. Two public readings will be held in September prior to the adoption of a final FY 2018 millage rate. The FY 2017 millage rate was 1.9966.

“The (preliminary) number can go down, but it can’t go up,” explained councilor Howard Reed, who suggested keeping 2017’s millage rate as a starting point for next year. “The whole point of trim notices is to give people the opportunity to inform their elected representatives if they’re happy with their taxes or not.”

Marco Island city councilor Howard Reed

Reed was joined by councilors Bob Brown and Joe Batte in pushing for a higher preliminary starting number than the rollback rate of 1.8976, arguing that it made more sense to work downward since it would afford the legislative body more budgetary options.

But Chair Larry Honig, Vice-Chair Jared Grifoni and councilors Charlette Roman and Victor Rios disagreed.

“I have a bit of the problem with the bigger number because gas expands to the available volume,” Rios analogized. “If we put the bigger number there, then we’re definitely going to find a way to get there.”

Honig echoed that sentiment.

“I have to agree 100 percent with Councilman Rios,” he said. “If we have the money, we’re going to find a way to spend it.”

Besides, Rios said, more tax dollars would be collected in 2018, even with the rollback rate. He said Marco taxpayers wouldn’t have any problem sifting through the numbers.

“People are not stupid,” he said. “They can read the numbers and say, ‘My millage rate went down, but my actual taxes went up’.”

Brown characterized the final preliminary number as a mistake.

“We still have another two-plus moths of budget discussions to go,” he said. “Therefore, we have to have enough play in there so we can discuss all the departments’ initiatives.”

Brown’s motion to adopt a preliminary rate of 2.019 failed to receive a second.

In other action, council voted 6-1 to schedule a second reading on conditional use of nautical garages in all single-family residence zones on the island. Ultimate approval would require amending the city’s Land Development Code 9LDC.)

More:Marco Island City Council Chair Larry Honig: 'This is government at its worst'

Brown was the lone dissenting vote on the issue.

“This whole thing dates back to August 2015, and my issue is that it was very specific at the time,” he said. “It involved a shoulder lot, and not just any lot on a canal someplace. The argument was simple: it cost too much money (and) nobody’s going to do it. Well, lo and behold, guess what? There are quite a few people on Marco Island who have a few dollars in their back pocket, so I’m not sure that’s a true statement.”

More:Marco Island Planning Board finally gives cut-in nautical garages the thumbs up

For his part, Reed said he evolved on the issue.

“I’ve come 180 degrees since Day One,” he said. “I used to be 100 percent opposed to the idea of nautical garages, but I think it solves a (congestion) problem, and isn’t simply giving a person a place to store their expensive boat.”

Due to time constraints, scheduled discussions on the need for a second, full-time ambulance for the city and a recent Florida Department of Environmental Protection ruling on water testing at the Esplanade were delayed to future meetings.

“I would remind council, at the risk of having my head cut off, that the reason we don’t get to these issues is that council talks a lot,” Honig said. “It’s pointless to say we can discipline ourselves because we like to talk. We do.”

Council’s next meeting is 5:30 p.m. August 7 in the community room, 51 Bald Eagle Drive.

For more information or to view the meeting in its entirety, visit www.cityofmarcoisland.com.