OCTOBER 2021 NEWSLETTER
Posted by Greg Folley 5sc on October 31, 2021
FROM THE DESK OF VICE CHAIR GREG FOLLEY Friends & Supporters,
This update covers the Council meetings of October 4 and 18 and November 1. In these meetings we completed work on the Comprehensive Plan, dealt with the county’s proposed trolley on the Island, approved changes to the police pension plan following successful negotiations, considered a possible vacation rental registration program for the Island, and selected a new chair and vice chair for the coming year, among many other issues. Details follow below.
Finalization and Approval of Comprehensive Plan Following over a year and a half of work, the Comprehensive Plan was finalized and approved at our October 4 meeting. As noted in previous updates, the Comp Plan is required every 10 years from municipalities under Florida law and forms the basis for the any changes to the City’s Land Development Code. The approval of the Plan is the culmination of literally dozens of public meetings on the Plan at Public forums, Planning Board meetings and meetings and workshops of the City Council, during which hundreds of citizens participated and requested specific changes, a large number of which were incorporated into the final Plan. Among these changes was the elimination of any requirement for the City to support affordable or workforce housing in any way on the Island, removal of all density and incentive bonuses for developers, and reduction of overall permitted density on the Island from 23,164 under the previous Plan to 22,775 under the new Plan as approved. Also removed from the Plan were requirements for the City to mandate clean energy standards for new development and a requirement that the city regulate “potential” wetlands, in light of historical infringements on private property rights by governmental entities in this area. Finally, after vigorous citizen input, all reference to the County’s proposed trolley was removed from the text of the Plan’s Transportation element. All of these changes improved the final Plan immensely, and the result was a Plan which, while not perfect, is worthy of support and which will provide a sound foundation for Growth Management in our the City over the next decade. The final Plan was approved 6-1 and will now be referred to the Planning Board or a subcommittee thereof to propose the limited changes to our Land Development Code mandated by and consistent with the Plan.
Police Pension Plan Changes Earlier in the Fall Council approved a new three year collective bargaining agreement with the FOP, which represents our police officers here on Marco. Council, the City Manager and Chief Frazzano had concluded that while our pay for officers was below market and needed to be improved significantly to attract and retain quality officers for the Department, pension benefits were way out of line with the private sector and even most public sector employers. Accordingly, changes were agreed to with the Union which reduced far above market COLA payments, increased normal retirement age to 57 (from 55) while setting a minimum retirement age of 52 (there had been none previously), and increasing member contributions to the Pension Plan from .5 to 3% of pay, among other changes. These changes will help assure the long term solvency of Plan for the benefit of our police officers and our taxpayers, while still assuring that they receive highly competitive retirement benefits. At our October 4 meeting we approved changes to our Code of Ordinances effectuating these changes.
Proposed Collier Area Transit (CAT) Trolley I serve as the Marco Island representative (together with Commissioner LoCastro and a number of other Collier County elected officials) on the County’s Municipal Planning Organization (MPO). In that capacity, I learned of a Plan by CAT to dry run a trolley service around Marco Island over the first weekend of December this year, which could then provide a blueprint for future regular trolley service on the Island. Long before the trolley became a hot topic for citizens at Comp Plan discussions before Council on September 20 and October 4, I had asked Michelle Arnold, the Public Transit Director for Collier County, to come before Council to update our citizens as well as my colleagues and I on the County’s Plans in this regard. She had the challenging task of doing this just after some rather emphatic discussions on the trolley had already taken place at Council’s previous two meetings. Some background on how a trolley came to be proposed is helpful here. I did some research on this matter and shared it with the Council and the public before introducing Ms. Arnold at our October 18 meeting. The trolley is an outgrowth of the Ad Hoc Parking Solutions Committee, which was constituted by the City Council at the behest of then Councilor Roman on February 21, 2017. The Committee was chartered to review Island-wide parking and congestion issues and make recommendations back to Council. The Committee was chaired by local businessman Robert Cholka and reported its recommendations to Council on September 4, 2018. Among these was a recommendation to work with the County to set up a seasonal trolley running along the beachfront from Tigertail and along Collier Boulevard to South Beach and back. The proposal was to alleviate traffic and parking congestion by running two trolleys from 8am to 10:30pm seven days per week every 30 minutes during peak season. Following discussion, Councilor Rios was then tapped by Council to follow up with CAT to see about funding and feasibility. Following conversations with Mr. Rios and city staff, Ms. Arnold incorporated the trolley as an element of CAT’s 10 Year Transit Development Plan required by FDOT for our County. Ms. Arnold appeared before Council on August 17, 2020 to discuss the ten year Plan. Among other issues, she sought consensus from Council to further explore the feasibility of a trolley on Marco Island to address the request previously made by the City based on the Ad Hoc Parking Committee’s recommendation. There was general consensus among Council members to further explore the feasibility of such a trolley. There were no negative public comments at that time, or at any of the previous discussions described above going back to 2017. On September 10, at the monthly MPO meeting, I asked Ms. Arnold to return to Council for an update to the public and Council on the trolley, which had now advanced to the point where a dry run was planned for the first weekend of December. She agreed. Thereafter, the trolley became a hot topic at our September 20 and October 4 meetings, but concern grew to a much greater extent leading up to Ms. Arnold’s appearance before Council on October 18. I personally received over 200 emails opposing the trolley before our October 18 meeting, and only a handful in support. It was thus clear that the proposed dry run for the trolley, and the trolley project itself, faced huge public opposition by the time Ms. Arnold outlined her proposal on the 18th. Following her presentation, which was high level and outlined a route around the Island and the proposed dry run, numerous speakers rose in impassioned opposition to the proposal, with only a few showing some support for the idea. After hearing from Ms. Arnold and the public, Councilor Brechnitz moved to inform the County that we are not interested in proceeding with the trolley at this time, effectively killing the idea. I seconded the motion, and Council voted 4-3 to support approve it. Ms Arnold assured us that the County would not proceed with the trolley without support from the city, so the matter appears now to be laid to rest. While circumstances could arise which might lead to reexamination of the idea in the future, I think no trolley will ever be approved without broad support from our citizens, which doesn't exist now.
Vacation Rental Registration Discussion Following the trolley discussion. Assistant City Manager Casey Lucius gave a thorough presentation to Council summarizing options that could be considered to require owners of single family homes to register with the city if the home is to be used for vacation rentals. Such registration could include fees to finance code enforcement officers and enhance compliance with state, county and municipal laws governing rentals. I expressed support for this concept although it did not enjoy majority support from my colleagues. I moved to revisit the issue at a time certain in the future but the motion failed for lack of a second. I still believe this is something we as a Council should consider and I will seek an opportunity to revisit the matter at an appropriate time in the future.
New Chair and Vice Chair Every year at the first meeting in November Council is required to select a Chair and Vice Chair for the coming year. I was recognized first and took the opportunity to praise Chairman Grifoni for his outstanding leadership over the past year. His achievements included gaining approval for the two largest capital projects in the City’s history (Veteran’s Park and Fire Station 51 rebuild), overseeing successful labor negotiations with the our police officers, and passing a budget which meets City needs while assuring that we continue our longstanding practice of reducing millage rates to hold City property taxes flat for homesteaded Marco Island residents, among many other successes. I then nominated Councilor and former Chairman Brechnitz to serve another term as Chairman. In so doing, I stressed the importance of delivering the two huge projects we approved this past year on time and on budget, and assuring that Council take appropriate action to clean up our waterways to the maximum extent feasible based on the data recently presented to Council in Dr. Harper’s report. I noted that Councilor Brechnitz’s background in finance and his tenacity on fiscal matters generally suit him very well to assist the City Manager in delivering on these two major projects. Additionally, I pointed out that he had extensive experience in working on coastal improvement projects on Tigertail and at Hideaway Beach which, together with his past involvement in a major lake cleanup when he served as mayor of Decatur, IL, make him the ideal choice to lead our Council over the coming year in addressing these challenges. Councilor Blonna then nominated Chair Grifoni for another term, citing the many successes I had mentioned above in support. Chair Grifoni declined the nomination, however, noting that the demands of dealing with his newest family member, Matteo, born October 23, made it unwise to hold the job of Chair for the coming year (and congrats to the Grifoni family!). Thereafter, Council unanimously elected Councilor Brechnitz as Chair and then, on Chair Brechnitz’s nomination, unanimously elected Councilor Grifoni as Vice Chair. I was very happy to support both of my colleagues as they take over these responsibilities for the coming year.
Council next meets on December 6, for our final meeting of 2021. I will be in touch again after that meeting. Until then, Happy Thanksgiving! Thanks again for your continued support! Please like and follow my Facebook page for the latest updates. Take care and God bless! Sincerely, Greg S. Folley 940 Cape Marco Dr, Unit 2006 Marco Island, FL 34145