Friends & Supporters,
Holiday Greetings to You and Your Families.
Margo and I want to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a great New Year. December has been an exciting month for our Island. On Saturday December 3 we celebrated the rededication of Veterans’ Community Park with Christmas Island Style, the lighting of the community tree, and the inaugural concert at the Unity Bandshell featuring Joel Fry and his band. I joined City Manager McNees and my colleagues on City Council and on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee in cutting the ribbon, bringing online our new town jewel which was completed, in the words of Council Chairman Brechnitz, “on time, on budget, and with no tax increase.” Thereafter we had music and performances featuring emcee Jimmy Long and ten groups of young musicians, singers and dancers who entertained the crowd. And, speaking of the crowd, I have never witnessed such a huge gathering of our community at any single event. Everyone seemed to have a great time on this landmark occasion for our City.
Thousands gathered again last Saturday the 10th to enjoy our Annual Christmas Parade. Float after float from so many organizations charged up the crowd gathered along San Marco Road, and a good time was had by all yet again. Overall, a wonderful month so far for our community, giving us still more reason to love our beautiful Island home.
Turning now to Council business, we held one meeting this month, on December 5. It was a long one, lasting nearly 6 hours. I will spare you most of the details, but a brief summary is set forth below.
The meeting, which began at 4pm, started with the administration of the Oath of Office by the Honorable Robert L. Crown, Collier County Court Administrative Judge, to re-elected Councilors Brechnitz and myself, and to newly elected Councilor Darrin Palumbo. It is indeed an honor and a privilege to be selected again to represent you, the citizens of Marco Island. I am grateful to all of you for your support, and will do all I can to justify the confidence you have placed in me to serve our City effectively and for the benefit of all of our residents.
Next we selected the Chair and Vice Chair for the coming year, as we are required to do annually by our City Charter. This year I was elected Chair by my colleagues and Councilor Grifoni was selected as Vice Chair. I am humbled by my colleagues’ support for this role, and by our citizens as well. I will do my best to learn from the examples of Councilors Brechnitz and Grifoni, who between them have held the gavel for the last five years, to lead Council as we tackle the issues before us in the coming year.
While other issues were also dealt with, most of our remaining hours in the meeting dealt with the short-term rental registration ordinance. As you will recall, the ordinance was approved by voters in August by 57 percent of the voters participating. The ordinance requires property owners who use their homes for short term rentals to register with the city and pay a registration fee, to have a designated person available 24/7 in the event of problems with renters on the property, to maintain additional insurance and undergo fire inspections, and to limit occupancy, among numerous other provisions. Since the referendum, the proposed ordinance has been modified and, in my view, improved with several amendments agreed to by the sponsors and City staff, including changes to give discretion to the magistrate in assessing penalties for violations, changes to occupancy requirements to remove age-based restrictions, and removal of mechanical noise, such as lawn mowers, from the list of noises that can result in inappropriate noise violations. At this meeting, the entire Council—including those both opposed to and those who supported enactment of the ordinance, agreed by consensus to enact numerous amendments which in my view further improved the ordinance. One of the amendments assured that property owners would be able to continue to rent their properties, even if a license has not been issued by the City, if a license application is pending and awaiting action from the City. Another dropped the requirement for owners to keep a register of all current guests for inspection by the City, another dropped the requirement for renters to file a form occupancy agreement with the City, and another dropped the requirement for rental homes to have a landline. Still another change gave the magistrate additional discretion in determining whether to suspend the right of a property owner to engage in short-term rentals—discretion which appears to be mandated by State law. Finally, we agreed to an amendment requiring that all costs to administer the program be recovered from license fees, and not recovered from tax dollars, in accordance with standard Government Accounting Principles. This last amendment assures that taxes will not be increased to pay for this program, consistent with the terms of the referendum passed by the voters in August.
Following adoption of these amendments and after hearing from numerous citizens speaking both for and against the ordinance, the ordinance as amended was adopted by Council on a 4-3 vote, with Councilors Brechnitz, Rola, Blonna and myself voting in favor, and Vice Chair Grifoni and Councilors Irwin and Palumbo voting against. The ordinance is now law on Marco Island. I voted for this ordinance because it reflects the will of a majority of the voters, but I have also expressed misgivings about the burdens it imposed on property owners who choose to rent their homes. I remain concerned about the inspection process, disparate noise provisions for properties with short term rentals vs. other properties, and the additional insurance requirements, and the cost of registration, among other things. We will be monitoring how this new law is enforced and how it is working to achieve its objectives, and look forward to receiving regular updates from City staff and citizens as it is being implemented. It is my hope that after start-up costs have been incurred, the $800 annual fee can be reduced over time, as has been the case in several other cities which have enacted registration ordinances.
A final matter before the Council at this meeting, also related to the registration ordinance, was the purchase of software to effectuate compliance with and administration of the newly enacted law. Assistant City Manager, Dr. Casey Lucius summarized the need for such software to effectively implement the new law. After researching several possible solutions, staff identified one system which can manage the registration program, accept online applications and allow required forms to be uploaded, identify rentals requiring registration and notify owners, verify occupancy and manage workflow for needed fire inspections. This software has been utilized successfully by a number of other cities and will cost $87,179 per year, to be borne by owners of short term rentals as part of the annual registration fee. If this software proves not to be as valuable as advertised, the City can drop the contract after the first year. The same majority which voted to enact the ordinance also voted to contract for the use of the software from the vendor, GOVOS. To me, such software is labor saving and is necessary to effectively implement the ordinance, justifying the City’s decision to acquire the license for the coming year.
Our next meeting is set for January 9. You will hear from me again next year!
All the Best,
Greg S. Folley
Chair, Marco Island City Council
940 Cape Marco Dr, Unit 2006
Marco Island, FL 34145