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When Marco island City Manager Roger Hernstadt emphasized at the Sept. 11 special public meeting with the city council, he proposed again to have the city lobbyist, Ron Book, try again to get support from the state legislators for $2.5 million to fund 1/3 of his proposed multipurpose building to be built on Veterans Park.

The proposed building includes facilities for Marco Island government, but in Hernstadt’s own words, we needed a “hook” to get the state legislators and eventually the governor to approve providing funds. That “hook” was the language used at the meeting, and in his letter to state Rep. Kathleen Passidomo also sent on Sept. 11, in which he several times alluded to veteran facilities, from meeting rooms, outreach service, etc. that would be placed on that building.

The reality is that most of the uses of such a building would have nothing to do with veterans well being, nor were the various veterans organizations in Marco Island ever consulted for support for a building.

Even if the state were to give the $2.5 million for the building, it would require that the citizens/taxpayers of Marco island fund the other $5 million of the $7.5 million estimated cost of the building. If I recall correctly, in 2014, Hernstadt, proposed the so-called “bucket system” to eventually rid Marco Island of it operating debt (not to be confused, as some on the press did at the time, with the large debt of the water and sewer utility). While I was at the time just another taxpayer (I ran later for city council and was elected in the November 2014 elections), I strongly opposed that plan, because it was another “hook” to raise Marco island City taxes. However, now all of a sudden, the City Manager has no problem with recommending the borrowing of at least another $5 million for this unneeded building and saddle Marco Island taxpayers with more debt.

Thankfully, the Marco island veterans, which by the way are apolitical organizations, made it clear to the City Manager that they not only objected to this “monstrosity” building in Veterans Park, but also, rightly’ objected to having their name being used as a “hook” to get the money.

I was pleased to attend on Oct. 20 a meeting of the American Legion Post 404, where all the other veterans groups were also invited, and Hernstadt was the keynote speaker. His subject was the Veterans Park so-called multipurpose building. Try as he may, Roger was not convincing and during the Q&A following his presentation, it was obvious that he had overplayed his hand, and many viewed the use of veteran facilities as the hook to get funds, more as subterfuge to fool the legislators into using their political clout to get the $2.5 million, and to fool the taxpayers into getting into more debt.

Nevertheless, Roger is still trying to “sell” this multipurpose building and also on the same day, at the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, he repeated the same talking points that he had used earlier with the veterans. Needless to say, with one or two exceptions there were no takers. However, I am concerned that unless the taxpayers as well as property owners of Marco Island, who foot the bills of our city, need to continue their involvement and clearly let the Marco Island City Council know that they do not want this multipurpose building.

I like to say thank you to the hundreds of Marco Island residents that over the last couple of weeks have sent letters to City Council opposing this plan. As these letter started to show up in the City Council in-box, I tried to answer them, but I am so overwhelmed by the quantity and dedication of our citizens in having their voices heard, that, it is practically impossible for me to answer each letter individually, but I want all you to know that I thank you very much for your efforts to stop this project and I like to encourage you to not only continue writing letters to City Council, but also encourage your family and friends to do likewise. Also write letters to the editors of our local press. It is the power of the people that eventually will drive the decision, and it is you the people, united with one voice to tell your elected officials to drop this “monstrosity” to listen to you and do what you want for the betterment of our piece of paradise.

As some of you may remember, I had guest commentaries published in the local press on Oct. 8 and 9 on this subject, and as I said in that commentary, if we have to, let’s have a referendum in 2016, so that all of the Marco Island residents/taxpayers have their voices heard. It is possible to have such a referendum at the same time as the upcoming primary elections scheduled for March 16, 2016.

My message to Roger is that the city of Marco Island has many more dire needs for funds, such as planned expenditures for the water and sewer utilities, as well as looking into our waterways, the lifeblood of our city and that we make sure that we effectively protect them from pollution and damage. Since we hired a lobbyist, let’s change his focus to these other more important needs.

Victor N. Rios

Member, Marco Island City Council

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