Marco City Council meets again July 18, and summer sessions for city council mark what Chair Jerry Gibson terms the ‘meat and potatoes’ of council responsibilities. His terminology may be prosaic, but the goals that the council should accomplish between now and the end of September involve hotly contested issues that impact nearly all of Marco’s residents: finalizing the city’s budget, setting the millage rate (the amount of property tax the city charges separately from Collier County) and addressing water rates.
Gibson hopes we’ll be paying attention, saying his objective, and that of his colleagues, is to accomplish what’s best for the island as a whole. “We’re on the cusp of one of the most important things council does, the budget.” A subcommittee led by councilmen Magel, Trotter and Waldack is working with city staff to cut spending where possible, and justify expenditures to bring the budget into balance now, and then present it before the entire council.
The city’s general fund, where the majority of the budget lies, has very little debt, according to Gibson. “In many cases, there is a revenue stream to pay for it [the debt].” The largest debt item is the Glon property purchase, now Veteran’s Park, which is paid for with a special assessment on property tax bills.
“My only wish is that the city provide services to its citizens as inexpensively as possible and I believe we’ve done that. People don’t realize how thin we are; we are blessed with the staff we have in this city. People are wearing so many hats, no complaining, they just do it. The City’s budget analysis through May 2011, shows that the City expenses were below budget while revenues were above, a confirmation of the city’s dedication to budget control.”
After the 2008 election that seated Gibson on council, he and the other new councilors made a big push for transparency, televising as many meetings as possible and putting them on the city website to make the decision making process more accessible.
“The key is a more educated constituency. When people take the time to watch the meetings, the closer they are to a fact-based viewpoint.” What Gibson finds over the top is just how many residents do all their information gathering at the weekly tennis game or happy hour.
Sifting through the noise generated by groups claiming to represent significant numbers of islanders, and balancing that against the reality of a population of 16,413, according to the 2010 census, is a challenge for the entire council. “Warring petitions,” he says, are less than helpful.
Gibson, who believes council’s agenda should be driven by city staff and citizens, believes his role is to facilitate the conversation, including the dissent. “That’s the challenge and the enjoyment, interacting with people and debating opinions. I grew up with five brothers,” he adds wryly. “Things could get crazy.”