Editorial: Marco leaders should fill in the blank sooner than later
Marco Island leaders continue pushing forward with efforts to get permission to set up the city’s own ambulance service through its fire department, but they have yet to answer the million-dollar question.
Is it a $1 million question? Or is it $2 million. More? Less?
At last week’s meeting, City Council members began trying to formulate language for an Aug. 28 ballot question that’s required by a pending Florida House bill that would grant Marco Island the certificate needed to authorize a city ambulance service.
Council members went through initially suggested language for the summary that would appear on the ballot. Yet there remained a “fill in the blank” for what it will cost islanders in additional tax dollars to create and operate an ambulance service.
The initial language stated the cost to taxpayers this way: “provide appropriate funding for these services ..."
That blank needs to be filled in soon because although many islanders want to enhance ambulance service beyond what’s now provided by Collier Emergency Medical Services (EMS), as of now it’s tantamount to a blank check.
Collier EMS provides one Marco ambulance year-round and a second during peak season. A city service envisions two ambulances staffed by Marco’s fire-rescue department year-round with the current EMS crews redeployed off the island.
Wanting something and being able to pay for it is the same thing for some people in this region, but certainly not everyone.
It’s their word
Kudos to council Chairman Jared Grifoni for getting the discussion going about proper ballot wording.
The council, though, is comprised of seven strong-minded members, all successful in their professional, business or military careers. As you therefore might expect, the discussion that ensued last week was reminiscent of the proverb about how a camel is a horse designed by committee.
Example: One council member suggested specifying a millage figure on the ballot, to which another questioned whether voters understand what “mill” means. A mill is $1 of taxes for every $1,000 of taxable property. While that’s just a few words, state law limits the ballot summary to 75 words.
In the end, council members were asked to devise suggested language to review at a future council meeting. We’d note the council recently hired as their city manager an experienced county administrator, Lee Niblock, who has been responsible for emergency services in prior jobs and has stated repeatedly he’s mindful he’s spending people’s tax money, not a government agency’s. That’s a reasonable place to start.
The clock is ticking to resolve the ballot wording. To get on the August ballot, language is supposed to go to the elections office by June.
More immediately, the Legislature would have to allow it to go forward through granting Marco special permission to get the patient transport certificate. The session is halfway over. The bill has passed one House committee of three assigned. Then it needs Senate support and a gubernatorial signature. For a Legislature showing stripes against home rule and increasing taxes, we’ll be surprised if lawmakers don’t hit the pause button long enough to ask: “What is this going to cost taxpayers?”
Meanwhile, Marco officials also applied to county government for the certificate to allow the ambulance service. A county spokeswoman says it’s scheduled to go to the Emergency Medical Authority advisory board this week. A review typically takes two months, then goes to county commissioners. That could be in April if all goes smoothly.
That’s a lot of time invested by many folks if the bottom-line question hasn’t been answered: What is this going to cost?