Friends & Supporters,
It’s a great day in Paradise, friends! We had a busy month with City Council. Two regular meetings plus a budget workshop and a workshop on water quality. The highlights are summarized briefly below.
At our May 2 meeting, Council reviewed our annual Auditor’s report and comprehensive financial report. The report from the Auditor was unqualified and reflected extremely well on the City and its finances, a rating which is quite rare for municipalities. The City was also awarded the Government Finance Officers Association Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the 14th consecutive year. To summarize a financial report which is 157 pages long, the city’s finances are managed frugally and well, and our financial status is excellent.
Citizen Survey Results
The City’s first citizen survey results were shared with Council and they were quite interesting. The biggest issue in terms of importance and citizen frustration was managing growth and density in our City, including parking and traffic congestion. Many residents, especially those who have lived here more than a few years, feel the City has “gotten worse” since they moved here and is moving in the wrong direction, as more and more tourists and new residents come to Marco. We on Council were certainly aware of resident concern about these issues, but the survey confirmed how important smart growth management is to our citizens. I certainly bore those concerns in mind as we considered the next item....
Off-site Parking Agreement
Council addressed for a second time the proposed agreement between the city and the proposed new restaurant next to Snook Inn in Old Marco. The agreement would allow the restaurant to supplement existing parking on and adjacent to the property with parking about 1000 feet south at the current Marek’s location. After reviewing an updated traffic report and hearing arguments form petitioner and citizen comments, Council exercised its discretion to reject the agreement by a vote of 6-1. The result of this vote is that the size of the restaurant will be limited to about 170 seats, and will not be allowed to expand to the 268 seats petitioner had sought. I believe this is the correct decision and I found the proposed asking arrangements to be unworkable.
Council approved on second reading a revision to city ordinances allowing for fabric boat dock and lift canopies. The canopies require a permit, though his requirement is a matter of concern to many citizens. I will follow how this requirement works in practice to assure that it does not create an undue burden upon boat owners seeking to install such covers. However, I am pleased that Council adopted this common sense change to our ordinances to allow for these protective canopies, which protect citizens’ investments in their boats and also enhance safety.
Tommie Barfield Baseball Field
The City currently maintains the baseball field pursuant to an agreement with the Collier County School Board. That agreement is up for renewal and city staff suggested that it might make sense to turn over maintenance to the School District. This suggestion when publicized gave rise to major concerns about the ability of Marco Island Academy to continue to use the field for its baseball team. After hearing from a number of concerned citizens, I and other counselors assured residents that under no circumstances would the City permit any resolution of the maintenance issue to result in the loss of access to the field by the Academy. That said, the City was directed to engage the School Board in negotiations to determine the best path for maintenance of the field going forward.
Council reviewed budget assumptions for the coming year at our May 16 workshop. Interestingly, gross taxable values cratered after 2006and only this year have finally risen above the 2006 valuations. Thus, while it is true that property values have risen rapidly in the past couple of years, they had been higher in the past. While recent increases in property values have been greater, the city is assuming a lower 5.53% taxable value increase, which is both conservative and reasonable (recall that tax bills will not increase for homesteaded properties). Any positive difference in taxable value can be used to strengthen the City’s General Fund reserves and/or applied to new or recurring programs, services and initiatives as directed by Council.
Colloquy with City Attorney Regarding Short-term Rentals—at our May 16 meeting I had a detailed discussion with the City Attorney concerning a variety of issues surrounding short term rentals on the Island, and citizen rights vis-a-vis disruptive short term renters. In short, citizens do have the right to bring declaratory judgment actions in court to challenge the City Attorney’s opinion that the City is banned by State law from regulating or prohibiting Short term rentals. Also, property owners may bring lawsuits against property owners who lease their property to short term renters who are a “nuisance” to their neighbors. A summary of the full discussion can be viewed by clicking here (Erin—please add link to my video).
Water Quality Workshop
water quality has been a major issue on our Island for years. Council held a workshop on this issue on May 23. Council heard from the Waterways Advisory Committee and from Clean Water consultant Jacobs Engineering, both of whom were charged with reviewing Dr. Harper’s 500-plus page report and making recommendations to Council on steps to take to clean up our impaired canals. These presentations and the ensuing discussions and citizen comments proved extremely enlightening to me. Anyone seriously interested in the state of our canals would do well to watch the whole meeting, which is available on the City website and can be accessed by clicking here(please insert link). Without getting into all the details, I came away with a few conclusions. First, reuse water does not seem to be a major contributor to water issues in our canals. Second, fertilizer may be a contributor, and we need to consider stronger enforcement of our fertilizer ordinances, which are not well followed by contractors on the Island. Third, oxygenation is a potential solution we need to explore—water quality is diminished by excess nitrogen and phosphorus which deoxygenate our canals, but getting rid of these elements is a very daunting task. A better solution could be to increase movement of stagnation waters to the extent possible and perhaps, to the extent financially and technically feasible, to reintroduce oxygen into our canals. The Waterways Committee was tasked with further exploring this oxygenation option.
Other items to be considered included swale improvements, a storm water utility, and a possible fertilizer ban. Council will discuss these issues in meetings in the near future. I have deep concerns about our water quality, but am also committed to incurring significant expenses or imposing mandates only where we are confident that such expenditures or mandates will actually result in a measurable improvement in our water quality. Stated differently, I will not support measures that won’t make a difference in our canals just to show that we are “taking action” or to just “do something.”
Much more to come on the water issue.
That’s it for May. Back to you next month with another update. Until then, enjoy another month in Paradise..
Thanks again for your continued support! Please like and followmy Facebook page for the latest updates. Take care and God bless!
Greg S. Folley
940 Cape Marco Dr, Unit 2006
Marco Island, FL 34145