Where's the fire? Marco Council discusses Station 51, COPCN

Lisa Conley
Marco Eagle

The Marco Island City Council met Monday evening and put Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murphy in the hot seat regarding the construction of a new fire station.

Fire hoses sit coiled and ready for use in this file photo.

Lightning struck Marco Island's Fire Station 51 in summer 2016, causing so much damage to the building that it was condemned.

City officials budgeted for the construction of a new station, but after design changes and increases in the cost of labor and construction materials, the project is now $851,000 over budget.

That money, City Manager Lee Niblock said, is going to have to be taken away from other city projects. Specifically, the money will come from the Fire-Rescue Department's funds for new supplies and the renovation of Fire Station 50. The department will also completely drain its impact fees account, which is used for various improvements and projects.

More:Planning Board approves fire-rescue station 51 design

"We're sacrificing a lot here going forward," Chair Jared Grifoni said. "It seems to me we're putting a lot of eggs in this one basket."

"I'm with the chair on this that this is a 'pull your hair out' moment with regard to money," councilor Larry Honig said, "but God reined evil down on us twice," he added, referring to the lighting strike and Hurricane Irma, which is part of the reason why labor and construction material costs have increased.

Murphy noted that the city has a $1 million grant for the project, and that grant has a quickly-approaching expiration date, so construction needs to start soon. Plus delaying the project would result in yet another cost increase.

Marco Island Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murphy

"Any delay or re-engineering of the project is going to drive the cost up even further," he said. "It's a critical issue to us."

"When you factor everything in, this is the best project and pricing we can bring forward at this time," Niblock added.

The increased cost of the project and the grant's ticking clock aren't the only issues, however; it's been almost two years since the fire station burned down and the city still has not received any money from its insurance company, and the back-and-forth between the two entities has racked up several thousand dollars in attorney fees.

Although the councilors appeared to still have misgivings about the project, they ultimately approved a resolution authorizing the city manager to enter into an agreement with DeAngelis Diamond Construction for the construction of Fire Station 51 not to exceed the overall project amount of $3,617,168.

Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity

Council also discussed a ballot referendum resolution pertaining to the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (COPCN), which would allow the city to operate its own ambulance services. 

In October, all three members of Collier County's state legislative delegation – Sen. Kathleen Passidomo and Reps. Bob Rommel and Bryon Donalds – voted to support a local bill that would allow municipalities to grant their own COPCNs, but there were a few stipulations, including putting a referendum about the COPCN on the August 2018 primary election ballot.

The referendum must be submitted to the Collier County Supervisor of Elections Office by June.

More:Marco council votes 7-0 to apply for a COPCN

More:Marco receives unanimous support for COPCN bill

Several of the councilors noted that the current language of the proposed referendum doesn't include the cost of the COPCN or where that money is going to come from.

"I hope we can at least make sure we inform our citizens of what it is they are really going to get, and inform them what it is it's really going to cost them," councilor Howard Reed said.

Council continue to discuss the referendum at future meetings.

In other business

Council discussed a request to extend the temporary waiver of permit fees for Hurricane Irma related repairs to roofs, screened enclosures, fencing and solar collectors. It also discussed changing its rules of procedures. 

Council's next meeting is 5:30 p.m. Feb. 20, which is a Tuesday. All city offices will be closed Monday, Feb. 19 in observation of Presidents Day.