Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Charter Amendments: What do They Mean? How Should I Vote?

 

 

By now, everyone should have received a ballot and an explanatory brochure on Understanding the Referendum in the mail. The brochure clearly states a YES vote means that you want to change the Charter language on that question, while a NO vote means you do NOT want to change the language on that question.

How about the seven questions themselves?

Members of the Charter Review Committee offer their comments and information on each of the changes up for discussion. These questions will be presented to the voters on January 26, 2010, and as the absentee ballots are distributed early in January, many voters will have an opportunity to express their response and preferences early in the new calendar year.

City Charter Amendment “A”
Clarification and Update of the City Charter
by Steven Thompson, Marco Island City Manager

In January of 2009 the Marco Island City Council appointed a Charter Review Committee to review and recommend changes to the present Charter.  These recommendations are included in proposed Charter Amendments that will be presented to voters in a mail-ballot election on January 26, 2010.

The City’s Charter defines the City structure and how the City is to deliver the services, and over the past year the residents and former members of the Committee discussed and reviewed a number of proposed changes to the Charter. There are seven potential changes recommended by the Committee.

The first question voters will consider, Question A, is a clarification and update of the language of the City Charter:

“It has been proposed that the City Charter be comprehensively amended, including changes made for style, clarity and consistency, along with amendments clarifying the duties, responsibilities, authority and qualifications of City officers, and amendments updating the Charter to conform with State law provisions, and deleting matters more properly covered by City Ordinances. Shall the above-described Charter Amendment be adopted?

Question A specifically cleans up the language to clarify the Charter and to reflect more of the Charter of a continuing city by removing transitional language, references to City obligations that were satisfied and no longer exist, and providing for the continued effectiveness of the Charter.  Additionally, Question A proposes to update the Charter to reflect 1) the City’s current geographic boundaries 2) the City’s establishment of qualifying periods and municipal election schedules by Ordinance pursuant to recently enacted Section 100.3605(2), Florida Statutes, and 3) the appropriate titles for municipal offices and officers.

City Charter Amendment “B”
By David Rush

This commentary deals with council member term limits. Under the current Charter, City Council members are restricted to no more than two full consecutive four-year terms. The issue was whether the intent is to limit service to four-year terms, or to a total of eight years in office during the lifetime of the council member in question.

Specifically, the possibility that a resident could successfully run for two terms of City Council, stay out of office for one or more years, and then again run for City Council. There is a consensus among committee members that a council person should be limited to a maximum eight years, period.  That raised the question: if a resident successfully runs for or is appointed to fill the remainder of a term vacated by a council member, under the current Charter, the appointee will continue to be limited to a total of eight years of service, and the years of service would require that this council member resign in mid-term during the second full term of service. Although this opens the door to a major problem, there hasn’t been one to date because no council person has resigned in the middle of a term.

The subject underwent thorough consideration, with members of the committee looking at virtually every problem that could arise under the current provision. It was felt the amendment to be voted on, will meet the true expectations of term limits with no more than eight years of service to the City on the City Council.

City Charter Amendment “C”
By Joe Granda

The present Charter sets the compensation of each council member at $6,000 per year and the Chairman at $9,000 per year. The same compensation has been frozen since the incorporation of the City and the review committee considered whether City Council members should receive more or less in compensation for their service to this community.

Service on City Council is a very time consuming and often expensive endeavor for many members of Council, and this service will often have a financial impact with unreimbursed expenses and lost wages.

The committee discussed this issue at length even though City Council compensation represents approximately only 0.2% of the total City budget. After review of various alternatives, and interviews with members of City Council as well as others, it was finally concluded that the overall compensation should remain at $6,000 and $9,000 as a base, and that compensation adjustment should simply be based on inflation (COLA). The wording in the Charter Amendment specifically allows a one-time adjustment to take prior inflation into consideration, and in future years compensation would be increased by the Federal Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) beginning January 1, 2011.

City Charter Amendment “D”
By Richard Shanahan

The Charter currently requires the City Manager to keep the Council fully advised as to the financial condition of the City. The Charter Amendment under discussion requires the City Manager to communicate promptly to Council, his or her reasonable expectation of deviations of $250,000 or more from an expenditure within the annual budget.

The overall discussion with this Charter Amendment is to avoid surprises for City Council, and generally most City Managers find that keeping City Council informed of financial changes in the organization are both well advised and important to the men and women serving on the elected Council. The Charter Review Committee members discussed this at length, and agreed that a deviation of $250,000 or more, in a General Fund budget that totals approximately $20 million, is a level of variation that could create some concern. The changes in state-shared revenues, for example, have fluctuated by as much as $250,000 to $300,000, and changes in other revenues and expenses can also reach this level.  The committee members were concerned that reporting of fluctuations of revenues or expenses should not be so low as to create a huge number of notifications, and that instead City Council should focus on substantive changes in expenses, and the overall spending of the City.

City Charter Amendment “E”
By Larry Magel

The following is my commentary relating to expanding and codifying the authority of the City Council to commence investigations of City Government without requiring the investigation to be handled through the City Manager.

Under the City’s present form of government, the Council works through the City Manager to conduct investigations within the organization. The Charter Review Committee looked at different forms of government and decided that our Manager/Council form was best suited to Marco Island.  However, we felt that the City Council should have an independent role in commencing investigations either through the City Manager or any other person or agency/committee of it’s choosing.

This issue is self-explanatory, but the key is providing City Council with the ultimate option to investigate, and receive reports on the operations of the City in a complete and independent manner when it believes such investigation is warranted by the facts.

While the reader may believe the Council already has this ability, there can be complications with this issue in practice.  The City’s Council/Manager form of government was created to give the City Manger sole responsibility to manage City operations and limits the role of the City Council to inquire and set policy, but strictly limits any operational role in the management of City operations. The committee ultimately concluded that the City Council does need the specific ability to investigate substantive or serious questions concerning the organization, but that the decision to do so should not be a casual decision. We recommended that a minimum of five (5) members of Council would have to vote in favor to support the decision to investigate when necessary.

This amendment will allow City Council to conduct or delegate investigations into the activities of the entire organization, without doing so through the City Manager, with a super majority vote of council members.

City Charter Amendment “F”
By Dr. James Riviere

The question under consideration: the City presently operates under a Spending Cap, limiting the increase of operating expenditures from the prior year to 3% plus increases to the Federal cost of living allowance (COLA). Using the charter formula: (base year*1.03 + base year*COLA)= maximum expenditures of the subsequent year.

Compounding this formula for a series of years defines a “CAP maximum” for future years. The budgeting guidelines have historically been prepared to program up to the maximum amount the “CAP Max” would permit, thereby preserving the maximum allowable expenditures for subsequent years. This can be quite a complex issue, but in fiscal years 2007, 2008, and 2009 the City experienced falling ad valorem property tax revenues and falling property values.

Under the present calculation, City Council was placed in the position of raising property taxes simply to preserve Cap Max on future budgets.
This amendment – Proposition F – proposes that the Spending Cap be retained as is, but permits City Council an alternative approach to budget guidelines. FY 2008 was chosen as the baseline year because the 2008 budget, as adopted, was a “needs based budget” or as others have referred to it, a “zero based budget”. Applying the same escalation factors currently in the Charter, an alternate Cap is proposed which can be used in any future year, taking away the drive to spend as much as possible in order to preserve future budgets.

This removes the “use-it or lose-it” mentality; one may use-it only if one needs-it and there is no detrimental effect on future year budgets.
The committee members concluded that this would eliminate the need for property tax increases simply to limit the impact of the Spending Cap on future spending years, and instead would allow City Council to reduce spending as necessary without regard to the impact of the Spending Cap.

City Charter Amendment “G”
By Jack Patterson

This commentary addresses the issue of public referendum requirements as a condition of spending.The present Charter allows residents to challenge ordinances but not resolutions. The most recent capital project, the Septic Tank Replacement Program, generated a lot of debate. However, Council passed this by resolution, not by ordinance, thereby denying opponents the right to petition for a referendum since residents may only challenge ordinances. Our committee felt that future major capital projects exceeding $12 million must be done by ordinance.

The committee discussed this issue at length, and concluded that any project exceeding $12 million in total costs should be approved by ordinance and, therefore, subject to the potential for public referendum.

You will be asked to vote YES or NO that new capital projects exceeding $12 million must be approved by Council by ordinance. This will be item G on the ballot.

If you need further information or assistance, please check the City’s website at www.cityofmarcoisland.com or contact Laura Litzan at the City Clerk’s office, 239-389-5000.

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