I was the city’s spokesperson when Marco Island requested help with five top priorities from our state legislative delegation – Sen. Passidomo and Reps. Rommel and Donalds. Marco Island was allotted more time than any other group. Our state officials listened carefully and asked excellent questions. Vice Chair Grifoni joined me at the podium to respond to many questions about our first priority: the right to provide our own emergency medical service. Ambulances on Marco Island are now owned and run by Collier County.
State law requires that Marco Island apply to Collier County if we wish to have our own ambulance service. Why do we want to control our emergency service? Because we are unique. Our population is 10 years older than the population of the City of Naples – and 20 years older than Collier County. Just as all of us feel safer with our own police department, we should be allowed to feel more medically secure, with our own emergency department.
During the hurricane, Collier County abandoned Marco Island, taking away our only ambulance. We argued that we had a secure, high ground location for the ambulance, and we of course had high, safe shelter for the crew. We do not dispute the county’s decision – we dispute the county’s right to tell Marco Island that we cannot take control of the department and make those decisions for ourselves. I remained on the Island, as did over 100 city first responders, watersewer and other employees, electricity and phone and cable trucks, and (by my estimate) 1,000 citizens. These people deserved to have medical services – they had police, fire, water, sewer, electric, phone, and cable people, but not emergency medical transport.
The county commissioners have made it clear that they will oppose our having local control unless we submit to conditions that amount to remaining under county control. That is why city council decided that our approach would include asking the state to let Marco Island apply directly for a license, bypassing the county. This gets to the heart of “home rule,” local control, so important to Marco Island.
We are a long way off, and maybe city council or the voters will decide not to move forward. We need to understand the costs, the administrative implications, the organization structure, and lots more. City council envisions a referendum in August of 2018 to let the voters tell us whether they want to increase taxes to pay for our own emergency medical service. The recent MICA survey indicated strong support, even in the face of a tax increase. In that survey, 1,711 citizens voted “yes,” almost 65%.
As our second priority, we asked our legislators to support building a gymnasium and classroom building safe from hurricanes and storm surges for the Marco Island Academy, which is the only public school on Marco Island not to receive funding for land or buildings from Collier County Public Schools. We emphasized that MIA is unique in that it completes Marco Island’s ability to offer a full education to our children. The project would also serve as a community shelter – which Marco Island does not have – in the event of an emergency.
We requested help in funding a renovated fire station, so that it can serve as an emergency command center, can house women as well as men, and is up to modern living standards. (We will make that happen, but we asked for state assistance.) We asked for continued help with the San Marco Road drainage project and the off- Island Marco Shores project. This is a difficult budget year in Tallahassee because of Hurricane Irma, but our first request – that we have the right to be in charge of our own emergency medical service – requires no funding, and we believe there is strong support for our other requests.
Larry Honig, Chair, Marco Island City Council