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City Council Update

Keep Our Taxes and Spending Low Platform Issue

Written By Rich Blonna

June 11, 2020

City Council Update

I attended Monday’s (June 8) special City Council meeting that was devoted to the Capital Budget. Marco Island uses a “Pay as You Go” (Pay Go) system that spreads out the cost of capital (buildings, vehicles, equipment etc.) over a five-year Capital Improvement Plan. Each year the various departments present their capital requests to the City Manager for inclusion in the City’s Capital Budget proposal.

The process is totally transparent and all capital requests are presented in person to the City Council by the various Department Heads. Councilors can ask the Department Heads, City Manager and City Finance Director any questions they want regarding the need for the items, their cost etc.

Prior to the presentations from the departments, Guillermo Polanco, the City’s Finance Director gave the City Council an overview of Marco Island’s share of the revised revenue projections from the 1% sales tax. This number is projected to be somewhere in the $3,000,000 – $3,500,000 range.

The meeting ran for four hours with all of the heads of the City of Marco Island’s departments presenting their capital requests to the City Council. My take-away from the meeting was that both the City Council and The City of Marco Island continue to be very fiscally conservative and honor the City’s commitment to keep taxes and spending low.

You can download a PDF copy of the budget by going to the City Council Calendar and clicking on the Agenda for the 6/8/20 City Council Meeting. The agenda contains the download link to the document (108 pages).

 I’ll quickly review some of the key departmental items requested and the discussions that they triggered.

 You can review the video of the entire meeting when it becomes available on the City Council Meeting website:

Police Department

Five items were requested; an unmarked traffic patrol car, three pole mounted automated license plate cameras (ALPR), one car-mounted ALPR camera, a new ID Card Machine system, and a Cargo Trailer.

The ID Card machine system is needed to replace the 12-year-old outdated machine currently in use. The Police Department is responsible for issuing IDs to all city employees and cannot rely on the effectiveness of the outdated system. Chief Frazzano reported on how the system already resulted in a former police officer producing a fake ID (unanimously approved by City Council).

The requested cargo trailer is larger than the old one now in use and will allow the PD to bring everything it needs situation (barricades, cones, etc.) to control an emergency. Right now, they must make multiple trips to move all of their gear (unanimously approved by City Council).

The unmarked traffic patrol car will be used to combat speeding, and reckless and distracted driving. Chief Frazzano explained that the increase in motor-vehicle fatalities (3 in the first 3 months of the year and one in December 2019) calls for innovative strategies. The use of traditional patrol cars isn’t working because people are posting their locations on social media etc. She described using an unmarked car as a deterrent designed to change behavior because drivers will not know where it is at any given time (unanimously approved by City Council).

The four ALPRs (three fixed, one mobile for use on a patrol car) were requested as a tool to help the police department identify cars entering the island that are associated with criminal activity. The Chief described how the ALPRs, whether fixed on poles or atop a police car, will automatically read license plate and feed that data into a database that scans it for violations linked to the number. Every car entering or leaving the island, 24/7 would be entered into the database. The cameras would not take pictures of the drivers or use facial recognition software to identify individuals. All scanned plates would be stored on a cloud database for 3 years. She explained that the Marco Island PD already has one mobile ALPR that has been sporadically used since 2015. It has recorded 10,000 “hits” for violations ranging from driving with an expired driver’s license to being listed on a terrorist watch list.

The Chief’s presentation initiated a spirited discussion of ALPRs. The main arguments against their use revolved around privacy and effectiveness issues. Councilors Grifoni, Rios, and Honig were seriously concerned that collecting and storing personal data on law-abiding citizens was a serious invasion of privacy and an example of government overreach. Councilor Grifoni argued that such an invasion of privacy and overreach was unnecessary on Marco Island, a city consistently rated as one of the top 3 safest places to live in Florida. Councilors Reed, Folley and Chairperson Breknitz argued that any loss of privacy related to collecting license plate data was worth it if it led to the apprehension of criminals and the prevention of crime on the island. (the 3 fixed ALPRs were approved 4-3 with Breknitz, Reed, Roman, and Folley voting in favor and Rios, Honig and Grifoni voting against it) (the one mobile ALPR was unanimously rejected).

Public Works

Three Capital items were requested; a storage building, a street sweeper, and a program for the repair and maintenance of sidewalks.

Director Tim Pinter described the need for a new, larger storage building that was capable of withstanding hurricane-force winds. The Public Works Department currently stores large trucks and other equipment under a carport-like structure that exposes them to the effects of high winds and hurricanes. The new building would have three bays and allow expensive equipment and trucks to be protected (unanimously approved by City Council).

While listed as a street sweeper on the Capital Budget proposal the vehicle requested is actually a “street vacuum.” The need for such a truck came out of various City Council meeting discussions and water-quality workshops in 2019 related to water quality. It was proposed that sweeping pollutants and material that contributed to raising nitrogen levels off of the streets would prevent them from entering our waterways as part of stormwater runoff. Councilors Reed and Roman inquired about available study data showing the effectiveness of the vacuum in doing this. Director Pinter reported that the only data available came from sales material provided by the truck’s manufacturer. At the present time no cities in Southwest Florida use a vacuum truck. The only place one is in use is Southwest Florida International Airport. Councilor Roman requested that Director Pinter reach out to them for evidence citing the effectiveness of the truck in improving the quality of the waterways surrounding the airport. (budget request unanimously voted down by City Council).

The Repair and Maintenance of Sidewalk item is a response to a lengthy discussion earlier in 2019 by the City Council related to the repair and maintenance of sidewalks. The issue came up because of numerous citizen complaints regarding their perception of a lack of uniformity in the way sidewalk-related code violations had been issued. Previous attempts to revise codes related to sidewalk repair and maintenance have proven to be unsatisfactory to citizens and the City Council. To address this issue and ensure the safety of sidewalks for citizens, the City Council charged the Public Works Department and City Manager to come up with some alternative proposals for remedying the situation. Councilors were concerned that adding such a large expense ($486,554) to this year’s Capital Budget given the uncertainty of revenues was not a good idea (unanimously voted down by City Council).

Parks and Recreation

Parks and recreation had six items on their Capital requests; three were shading (awnings on poles) for swing sets in Mackle Park , new Movie in the Park equipment, lighting for the Bocce Courts, and a new light tower used to provide portable lighting for all events (All of the items were unanimously approved by the City Council).

Information Technology

Information Technology had one request for an EMC Scan Box. This server-like device would allow for remote backup, redundant connectivity, and offsite storage of data. It also would reduce the likelihood that Marco Island’s essential data could be hacked and the city held hostage for ransom (unanimously approved by City Council).

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