By Carol Glassman
New Marco City Council Chairman Larry Magel addressed a group of homeowners at Hideaway Beach, attempting to illustrate the true situation about water usage and costs, and kill negative, overblown rumors about increases, embellished for “political purposes.”
When newly-elected City Council Chairman Larry Magel addressed homeowners at Hideaway Beach, he opened his remarks by promising to keep the avenues of communication open, thereby stopping the “misinformation” about the city being bandied about and “embellished for political purposes.” In order to do this, he is offering to speak to any community or civic group and to answer their questions. Magel, cautioning that some of the figures may not be exact just yet, listed a few of the many rumors and their misinterpretations as follows:
• RUMOR: The City has a $400 million debt. FACT: The total debt is currently $218,745,000.
• RUMOR: Fitch (bond company) has changed the rating of the city’s debt. FACT: Fitch has upgraded the Utility Debt from A+ to AA-. This is a good situation, Magel said, as it allows City Council flexibility to act and Marco Island is seen as a “fairly affluent, resort community” by its bond holders.
• RUMOR: City spending is out of control. FACT: In the last 18 months, spending has been under budget. The City is subject to a spending CAP. Fiscal 2012 is projected at $2,198,000, which is under the budgeted $2,945,000. Fiscal 2013 projected at $1,005,000 is under the budgeted $3,950,000.
• RUMOR: There are too many City employees. FACT: There are actually fewer city employees than in the past, and several of the higher-paid positions have been eliminated.
• RUMOR: Capital Improvement Projects are over budget. FACT: The majority of CIP funds goes to public works – roads and bridges. The budget for that is $2,287,000. Police and Fire – $272,000; Finance and IT – $244,700; Parks and Recreation – $46,600. Total: $2,850,000.
“We are currently working to find ways to get out from under the utility debt,” Magel said, pointing out that it consumes thirty percent of the operating budget of $29,000,000 and some of it goes to purchase very expensive water. City Council has investigated alternative methods and sources to purchase water, he said, but so far none has been feasible. The latest plan is to look into hiring a private company to operate utilities in partnership with the city.
Ideally, Magel said, it would be a good idea if all homeowners paid equal amounts for water usage. But in reality, he went on, it would not be fair. There are 10,500 single family homes and 11,400 condos. The single family homes use an average of 16,000 gallons of water per month, while each condo uses approximately 2,000 gallons. Reduction of surcharges is being studied.
Some of the projects Magel hopes to undertake in the near future, are allocating better ambulance service to Marco Island and establishing a 24/7 walk-in health facility in partnership with either Physicians Regional Healthcare or NCH.
As many of those present were part time Hideaway residents, Magel gave a quick course in Marco Island civics by explaining, “Under the city charter, City Council doesn’t run the city. We are a policy making, advisory board. The City Manager runs the city.”
Magel said there are always problems in the running of a city, but city auditors stated after 2011, the City’s financial position is strong.
“The figures are under reasonable control”, Magel said, urging those present, “Do not listen to the nay-sayers.”