Marco council debates COPCN referendum language
The Marco Island City Council met Tuesday night and continued to grapple with the language of the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (COPCN) referendum, which will be on the August 2018 ballot.
Council discussed the referendum at its last meeting, during which several 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.
Although the council still doesn't have a final price tag for the COPCN, it does know where the money will come from: property taxes.
The referendum now reads as follows:
"Should the City of Marco Island replace the prehospital and interfacility advanced (EMS) and basic life support transportation (ambulance) services currently provided by Collier County and currently funded through Collier County ad valorem property taxes, with comparable services provided by the Marco Island Fire Rescue Department costing an additional amount estimated at $ ____ million dollars per year, funded by an increase in City of Marco Island ad valorem taxes."
Councilman Howard Reed said the revised referendum is a "dramatic improvement" from the original; however, it needs to be stated in no uncertain terms that voting 'yes' will result in a property tax increase.
"I don't think people are likely to get ... that what we're talking about is increasing their property taxes," he said. "We're so close," to getting the language right, "but I request that you look at that and just make sure it's clear."
Vice Chairwoman Charlette Roman also wanted to make the language more accessible to the average voter. She referenced a similar referendum from the city's past that very simply asked voters if they wanted the city or the county to provide police services.
"I would like to see us move toward a more reader information friendly ballot language so that the casual voter knows exactly what they're voting on," she said.
She also supported including a spending cap, which councilman Larry Honig had suggested earlier in the discussion.
Like Reed and Roman, Honig emphasized the need for total transparency and clarity.
"I don't want it to appear as though we're trying to fool people," he said. "We're going to ask for a significant increase in property taxes on Marco Island and we should say that. We need to make the voter clear that we’re already being provided with ambulance transport and emergency medical services; we’re going to do a switcheroo and that’s going to be provided by your local government now.”
Councilman Joe Batte said the issue is about more than just money or control: it's about the uncertainty of the future.
"What made me think, what made me sold on this whole COPCN issue was the fact, and this is what I think the people need to know ... our ambulance services in the future are in jeopardy. We do not know what the county is going to do with this," he said, referring to the possibility of consolidation, an idea that county officials have been tossing around for years.
A nonbinding question on the March 2016 ballot asked voters if they supported a single emergency response district covering all of unincorporated Collier County. The ballot measure passed with almost 64 percent of the votes, but voters in Naples and Marco Island didn't get to vote on the question.
The councilors have feared that Marco Island would lose its power of home rule if the concept proposed in the straw ballot proceeds and the unified district transfers assets away from Marco.
However, the county remains uncertain as to when, and if, it will consolidate its EMS and fire services, and even if it does, the quality of service it provides will not be effected, said District Two Commissioner Andy Solis.
“If there would ever be any consolidation of EMS and fire service...nothing would change as far as the level of service, and how the citizenry of Collier County (is) protected through the EMS service would be of the utmost concern,” he said at a May 2017 joint meeting, the first meeting between the city and the county since 2014. “I can’t imagine that anything would happen…that would result in a lower level of service. The only reason (to consolidate) would be to make the system better.”
The councilors ultimately asked the city attorney to revise the referendum language to reflect their comments and concerns and present the revised version at a future meeting.
Council's next meeting is 5:30 p.m., March 5, in the community room, 51 Bald Eagle Drive.