Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Long Day For City Council




Marco Island City Council met twice on Monday, July 15 regarding important city issues. They first assembled in council chambers 9 AM to continue their review of the operating portion of the proposed 2019-20 municipal budget.

Council has held other budget reviews this spring which have included all aspects of revenue and spending proposals. This would be the last meeting prior to their setting an initial tax rate for the municipal portion of the annual assessment of taxes.

Residents may be confused when they look at their tax bills later this fall, which may leave them to believe that final number represents what it costs to run the city’s affairs.

The bill that is sent to residents after October 1st represents a number of agencies and governmental bodies. Included within that bill, in addition to the city’s portion of your taxes to operate the City of Marco Island, you will find the tax bill for Collier County Government, the Collier County School District, the State of Florida School Tax, the South Florida Water Management District and the Mosquito Control District.

Council resolved the boat dock issue for 672 Crescent Street.

A relatively small amount of money flows back to the city from that total tax bill. On a home, after all deductions for Save our Homes, veterans’ exemptions, homestead exemptions and other reductions that bring the total “taxable value” down to $500,000, the city portion of a tax bill only amounts to $900 a year, if the $1.8057 per thousand rate is adopted by council.

That $900 a year pays for local Fire, Police, Parks and Recreation, Public Works and all other general government functions such as Growth Management, Information Technology, Code Compliance and others.

Council would continue their review of all aspects of the general operating budget on Monday morning, including the requests for monies by the individual advisory boards and committees. All of this was done prior to the regularly scheduled Monday evening meeting of council in preparation for a debate and vote on setting the initial millage rate for the city for the 2019-2020 Fiscal Year.

The one interesting anomaly which was pointed out by Chairman Erik Brechnitz was that it appeared that the city was falling behind in sales tax revenues. Councilor Victor Rios would point out the numbers regarding sales tax revenues as provided to the TDC (Tourist Development Council), which he is a member, showing that the numbers are up in Collier County. Brechnitz would be looking to the finance director to clarify his numbers.

Evening Council Meeting

The evening meeting began as Council Chair Erik Brechnitz called Interim City Manager David Harden to the front of the dais to present him with the Key to the City in recognition of his six and a half months of service to the community. He would refer to his professionalism leading the community until Michael McNees was hired as the new permanent city manager two months ago.

Harden has stayed on through the month of July to help McNees come up to speed. McNees had referred to Harden as the “consummate professional” two weeks ago in an interview with the Coastal Breeze News, and Brechnitz echoed those same comments in his presentation.

One of the main topics of discussion at that meeting would center around a series of glitches concerning an application by Martin Judd and Carol Cienkus of Downers Grove, Illinois who were seeking a variance to construct a 27-foot by 12-foot seawall cut in on their property at 672 Crescent Street. The configuration of the lot was the reasoning given for seeking of the variance.

A building plans examiner in early 2017 had inadvertently issued a permit based upon an application for a building permit for a seawall. As soon as that error was discovered that permit was revoked. A formal review of the permit would then take place and concerns arose within staff regarding the impact of the cut-in to adjacent property owners.

When the issue went before the Planning Board for review it would deadlock 3 to 3 on the issue and it was forwarded to council for their review without a consensus. Staff had written that it did not support the application for the variance.

Adjacent property owners or their representatives would attend the meeting and object to what they saw was an impact to their properties. Attorneys for the applicant would come forward with their expert witnesses to make their case for what they felt was a “hardship” on their clients’ behalf.

Councilor Howard Reed would point out that there are approximately 126 lots at the end of canals and that approximately 45% of them have cut-ins, totaling 57.

Craig Woodward, attorney for the property owners, would point out that the initial application from October 2016 called for a “cut-into lot” and construction of a new seawall. He also showed permits from DEP, which the city had requested prior to issuance of the permit, which was issued in March of 2018. That permit was subsequently revoked by the city and the property owner would come back before the planning board who failed to approve or disapprove based upon a 3 to 3 vote and transferred the issue to council.

After considerable testimony from the applicant and their representatives, as well as representatives opposing the project, council would vote 4 to 3 to approve the applicants’ request for the variance. Council Chair Brechnitz, Councilors Jared Grifoni, Larry Honig and Howard Reed voted in favor, with Vice Chair Victor Rios, Councilors Charlette Roman and Sam Young in opposition.

Setting the Tax Rate

After having held three separate budget workshops, council would finally move forward on the issue of setting the initial millage rate for the 2019-2020 fiscal year for the city.

Councilor Larry Honig would suggest that the city look at switching the responsibility for the repairs of sidewalks within the community from property owners to the city. Property owners building new homes on the island would still be responsible for initially installing sidewalks as part of their original build of a new home.

Honig would also suggest that Code Enforcement be reduced to 2016 levels and reorganizing how that function is carried out. He has been a steadfast proponent of that during the last several years.

Council would move to set the new millage rate at $1.8057 per thousand dollars of valuation. That rate would compare to $1.8492 during the last year. Although councilors refer to this as a “roll-back rate,” in essence it is not. “Roll-back” would only raise the same amount of money as we did the year previous.

The actual monies raised will be more, as this does not take into consideration new taxable values added to the tax rolls due to new construction.

Council may vote in September to lower the rate approved at the Monday evening meeting, but in no case may they raise the rate.

RFP Document Approved For Landscaping

Council went on to approve an RFP (Request for Proposal) document to allow the city to go out for bids on city’s landscaping contract. Interim Manager David Harden and Public Works Director Tim Pinter worked on updating the present document based upon input from council. The only councilor to object was Sam Young.

Council will meet again on August 19th in chambers beginning at 5:30 PM.

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