Updated: May 2
A lot has transpired this Spring in our City. Due to extensive travel planned pre-COVID but only taken this Spring, I didn’t have a chance to issue my regular monthly updates. Here is a summary of some of the key developments in Council over the past quarter and in the City generally.
Short-Term Rental Registration—City Staff have set up the process for registration of transient rental properties, but to date only a fraction of registrations anticipated have occurred. The ordinance by its terms requires that it be self-funding, and while owners of transient rental properties still have over two months to register, I am very concerned about whether the registration fees will cover the costs of the personnel and software needed to enforce the provisions of the ordinance. Also, the State Legislature in Tallahassee is considering legislation which would cap the fees for registration ordinances as $50 or $100 per rental unit, far below the $800 fee we have found it necessary to charge to enforce our comprehensive ordinance. If that legislation passes, and we will know the answer to that by May 5, Council will likely have no choice but to substantially change the ordinance as enacted to reduce the cost of registration and enforcement, and the requirements placed on owners by its current terms. Further, the City now faces three lawsuits challenging the ordinance as unlawful and unduly burdensome upon covered rental unit owners. The City is only beginning to assess the strengths of the claims set forth in these suits, and how we will proceed to defend and or otherwise address these suits. A lot of unknowns right now, so please stay tuned.
Police Department Accredited—our Police Department was awarded accreditation from the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation at the FL Accreditation Conference held in St. Augustine on February 23. This award recognizes that our Police Department has achieved the highest standard of law enforcement professionalism. Only half of the law enforcement agencies in the State have achieved this status, and less than a quarter of agencies our size are accredited. Being accredited is extremely important for our Community and the City because it limits liability and risk by ensuring that our officers are properly trained on best policing practices, assures they have the right equipment and resources, and provides critical external review to assure the Department maintains the highest level of professionalism and community service through regular follow up audits by the Commission. My congratulations to Chief Frazzano and our entire Department for this outstanding achievement.
Fire Department Dedication—on September 7, 2021, the City held a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Fire Station 50. On April 28, 599 days later, we celebrated the grand opening of the completed facility, on budget though somewhat delayed due to the hurricane and material and labor constraints. This is a very important project for our City and its residents. We learned from Hurricanes Irma and Ian that we need a hardened Emergency Operations Center and a safe place to house emergency personnel during and after major storms. Our Fire-Rescue Teams, as well as our Public Works, Water-Sewer, and Police personnel will be on sight and able to respond immediately to any crises from this new, Cat 5 hardened facility. Marco Island is a first-class City and we now have a first class Fire Station and Emergency Operations Center. Congratulations to the Fire Chiefs—both former Chief Murphy and current Chief Byrne, as well as our City Staff and external partners such as Manhattan Construction Company, whose planning and hard work have made this new facility a reality which will protect our City and its residents and visitors for decades to come.
Caxambas Boat Marina—County Update— Hurricane Ian largely destroyed the Marina, including the store, fueling tank, and docks. Major repairs of these facilities are being undertaken by the County and are expected to take well into 2024 and perhaps beyond. In the meantime, all commercial activity and boat launching from the site has ceased, and the ramp is available for use only for the launching of kayaks. Before the facility reopens for commercial activity, the County must present the City a Plan to comply with existing zoning ordinances in a manner which enables residents to use the facilities and boat launch and appropriately limits commercial activity to enable that residential use. A lot of work yet to be done, but the facility will not reopen without a clear and acceptable plan to properly balance residential and commercial uses.
Tigertail Lagoon Restoration—this Spring this project will be completed. Kudos to Councilor Brechnitz for leading this effort with the Hideaway Beach Tax District, and thanks to Councilor Grifoni for securing county tourist tax revenues of nearly $1m, which together with the $3.3m raised by the residents of Hideaway Beach , made this project possible. The purpose of this project was to reopen the lagoon and reconnect the northern and southern lagoon sections which as a result of hurricanes over the past decade no longer had tidal flows between them, isolating the southern section of the lagoon and rendering it unsightly and unable to sustain the ecosystem which had long existed there. This is the largest beach project on Marco Island in 30 years, involving the movement of over 500,000 cubic yards of sand. In the past Tigertail Beach hosted nearly 500,000 visitors annually, but in recent years due to the lagoon’s deterioration annual visitors had fallen to about 200,000. This is a key reason why the County saw fit to invest tourist tax revenues in this project. Once completed, our Island will have its beautiful lagoon once again, and we hope and expect that as in the past hundreds of thousands of of residents and visitors will return annually to Tigertail to enjoy this restored natural wonder. No City tax dollars other than funds provided by the Hideaway Beach Tax District were expended to complete this vital project.
Code Review Workshop—Over a year ago I suggested to my colleagues that we undertake a comprehensive review of our too fat Code of Ordinances to see which are redundant, outdated, unnecessary or plain stupid and could be reduced or eliminated. My hope was that we could reduce the size of the code by 20-30 percent, thereby also reducing the demands we place on our citizens as well. My colleagues agreed and we identified a consultant to help us do this work, which has been ongoing since late last year. On Monday April 24 our consultant, Transystems, reported back to Council on its preliminary findings. I am pleased to say that our consultant identified numerous opportunities to centralize redundant and duplicative provisions of the Code and to insure that we have only a single definition for terms currently defined in multiple different ways in our Code. Opportunities were also identified to remove from the Code fee schedules, forms and internal City procedures (such as travel, procurement and standard forms) which need not be included in the ordinances. It was also identified that certain sections of the Code were difficult to understand and apply and in need of a complete rewrite, including those relating to noise, alcoholic beverages, nuisances, and telecommunications, not to mention the Land Development Code which requires a complete review based on the enactment last year of the City’s Comprehensive Plan.
Council quickly reached consensus to proceed with the readily achievable suggested changes promptly by reviewing with Staff and the City Attorney proposed changes and prepare a draft of the changes for Council and public review, to be followed by a second workshop. Staff and the consultant were also directed to propose a process for rewriting the provisions of the Code noted above requiring such a rewrite, which will be considerably more time and resource intensive but still quite necessary. Stay tuned—much more to come but I am very encouraged by our progress. If only every legislative body were focused on reducing the volume of legislation on its books instead of continuously adding to that volume. At least Marco Island is taking major steps in this direction.
Enforcement of Fertilizer Ordinance—in 2016, Council recognized that excessive use of fertilizer and improper discharge of lawn waste into our canals contributed significantly to the deterioration of our water quality on Marco Island, and passed legislation regulating these practices. However, no real enforcement process put in place, until this year. The City has undertaken an extensive effort to educate landscape companies of their duties under this ordinance, including its registration requirements. Beginning March 1 of this year all landscaping and fertilizer businesses operating on Marco Island are required to be registered with the City. As part of this registration process, all registrants are fully informed of their duties under the law. Since April 1, our Code Enforcement professionals have been strictly enforcing the registration and enforcement process, and have issued 79 NOV’s (Notices of Violation) to non-compliant contractors. Companies sited with NOV’s will have 30 days to register with the City and if they have not done so will be fined and issued a stop work order by Code Enforcement. Over time these enforcement efforts offer a real opportunity to prevent a major source of nutrients from entering our waterways.
Well that’s the Spring update. Back soon with an additional update.
All the best,