Sunday, October 20, 2019

Letter to the Editor: From Victor Rios re. Marco Island Veterans’ Park

 

 

Several months ago, the issue of Veterans Park came to the forefront when plans were put forward by MI City Manager and others, to build a multipurpose building in Veterans’ Park with the guise that there would be a facility for Veterans. Veterans were the “Hook” to get $2.5 million from the Florida legislators, then requiring the City to borrow another $5 million and further increasing the city debt. This fell apart quickly after every Veteran organization in the island objected to having their name associated with a structure that was going to do very little for Veterans. At the time, I wrote a Guest Commentary objecting to the process. There was also a very good expose of the issue by Sue Keller in her article in the Sun Times. Then the City Council was flooded with e-mails opposing the multi-purpose building and the effort died. Since then, I have been approached by a number of citizens concerned with the future plans for the Park.

MICA (Marco Island Civic Association) did the best job on the island of surveying a large group of people as to what they wanted for the Park. They received 2600 responses to the question of the future of the Park. That survey indicated that 82% do not want more development of the Park. They want it to stay as “green space”, essentially in line with their vote for the $10 million purchase of the Park property by referendum a number of years ago.

Other so-called surveys on Veterans’ Park claimed that there was “a majority support for the Park to be further developed”. These surveys, however, had a limited number of respondents, was statistically invalid and used confusing questions that muddled the result. The MICA survey questions were straight to the point and gave a clear answer much more representative of the pulse of the island; that is, “keep the Park as open greenspace”.

The original study for the Park considered building a Band Shell and restrooms. That may be something desirable, however, that study was done several years ago and the question is, maybe the next step would be a referendum with simple and clear questions on the future development of the Park. I for one feel that, for the time being, we should follow the desire of the majority and postpone any development actions at the Park.

There are also major financial concerns associated with proceeding to develop the Park at this time, which would be another multi-million dollar project.

City Council recently approved plans to proceed with the new Mackle Park facility, an expenditure of over $ 3 million. This expenditure was approved by referendum of our voters and was funded from available funds. No additional borrowing was needed. Some have argued that we should now borrow money to pay for the development of Veteran’s Park. They justify this by arguing that borrowed money is currently “cheap” (i.e. low interest rate). Additional debt at this time would be in conflict with the so-called City Manager’s “Bucket Plan” where taxpayers were required to pay increased property taxes to pay off existing debt and try to “pay as you go” with available funds and avoid any further debt. In addition, the City has many financial challenges ahead of it. For example, there are on-going financial issues with the County over SR92/Goodland Rd., which could seriously impact our finances.

This is not a time for the City to take on any more financial burdens that will require further increases in property taxes for our residents. Our seniors have not received a raise from Social Security this year and private pension funds, not indexed to the cost of living, remain stagnant. Many of our citizens are on fixed income for the rest of their lives and continue to experience decreasing buying power.

To some people building a band shell in Veterans Park would be nice – but it is still a “nice to have”. Before proceeding to do anything with the Park property we must get the support of the real majority of our residents – either via referendum approval or more extensive and reliable polling. Given the fact that over 80% of the people recently surveyed wants to keep Veterans’ Park as Green space, we need to heed that and move cautiously. Our Budget workshop is coming on July 8th and we need to understand all of the priorities before we commit to a “nice to have”.

A Marco island citizen wrote a letter to City Council back in April and explained his recommendation of “What should we do with Veterans Park?” He said:

“We should plant flowering trees- as a Veterans Memorial Forest with red, white and blue, purple and yellow flowering trees. Red, white and blue for all veterans, purple for wounded service and yellow for Vietnam service. It would be beautiful and make Marco unique with the only Veterans Memorial Flowering Tree Forest in the country. As an attraction, it would rival the cherry trees of Washington, DC. People could then walk from the Esplanade, go under the Savage Bridge and walk through the Veterans Memorial Forest as they now walk along the Riverwalk in San Antonio. It would make Marco one of the most unique, beautiful, patriotic cities in the United States”.

A wise recommendation that is totally in line with the reason the Veteran’s Park property was initially approved and why it was named after our great veterans.

Victor N Rios

Marco Island

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