THANK YOU FOR VISITING MY SITE -- I'LL TRY TO KEEP IT UP TO DATE!
SCROLL DOWN TO "CURRENT HOT BUTTON TOPICS" TO READ THE LATEST ITEMS
THANKS TO EVERYONE FOR ATTENDING & WATCHING MY "COFFEE"
My first "Coffee With the Other Larry" was the first one televised by the City, based on suggestions by Councilor Joe Batte and the good offices of the City Manager, Roger Hernstadt. Many thanks to them! If you couldn't attend and would like to see a re-broadcast, please click on the link below. The City Manager introduces me and welcomes the citizens. MICA provided coffee and doughnuts, and I respond to questions and follow-up from 10 individuals, covering just about every topic of interest on the Island today. The entire video lasts for about 1 hr. 55 mins.
YOU'LL NEED TO ADVANCE THE VIDEO TO THE 2:45 MARK BEFORE IT BEGINS
Let's talk about Marco Island
I ran for City Council, and was elected in November 2012, on a platform of transparency, fiscal conservatism, and responsiveness to all the citizens and constitutencies (homeowners, condo snowbirds, businesses and institutions).
In many City Council meetings, I make a presentation or discuss an important situation. The newspapers do not report these events. The meeting minutes provide only cursory summaries. I understand this.
So the purpose of this website is to provide the materials for your review, organized by topic, and to give you my point of view.
Most of the analyses I do, and present to City Council, are based on my detailed examination of comparable cities in Florida. In each case, I explain the comparison. You can decide if they're relevant. I spend an enormous amount of time going through the financial statements and budgets of these comparison cities. We can learn from what other cities do. We can learn from the mistakes they make, and try to avoid them. We're in very good shape now. We can lose this within a few years.
This site does not violate Florida's sunshine laws, according the the City Attorney.
Current hot-button topics
- Marriott: The hotel successfully amended its 2001 PUD to allow (a) an extra 11 feet of height on the new Lanai Tower and (2) construction of an additional "plant" for heating and cooling, located on the current parking lot. If City Council had not voted 6-1 to allow these changes, Marriott would have been required to find another way, without these exceptions.
- I played a strong role in scaling back some of the hotel's early plans. For example, as recently as January 2014 Marriott proposed a parking deck. I used my past expertise in parking matters, and I worked with two Chairmen of the Planning Advisory Board, to convince Marriott to eliminate the deck. I also argued strongly to Marriott's General Manager to reduce the height of the proposed new tower, and the tower was reduced from 125 ft. to 111 ft. in part because of my arguments.
- I prepared a summary of what I see as the facts and the situation. Click here to review it. This was discussed with Marriott's General Manger as well. It's a good summary of the facts, and it also bullet-points the two major outside-consultant studies on parking, traffic and overall quality of life post-construction.
- Over time, I became convinced that the Marriott's expansion would be a good thing for the city. And as I explained in City Council meetings, the Marriott's plans would not be considered "grandiose" in most comparable Florida cities. Take parking for example: Marriott's new parking will have spaces for 1,243 cars, which some felt is not enough. But if the hotel were to obtain building permits in Miami Beach, that city would require 1,096 spaces. Panama City would require 1,184 spaces. Hollywood Beach would require 1,058 spaces.
- Smokehouse Bridge: We voted, 5-2 and with a lot of agony, to allow "accelerated construction" on the new Smokehouse Bay Bridge, i.e., from 6 am to 10 pm six days a week, for 300 days beginning about Sept.1 (i.e., going until July 2015). Marriott contributed $1 million to allow Marco Island to pay for this accelerated construction, which is obviously in the hotel's best interest. Marriott expects to begin its project on May 15, 2015. But in my opinion this will also provide a considerable benefit to the Island, as the bridge will be under construction for only one "season," i.e., Winter 2014-2015. Without accelerated construction, we would have to suffer through sporadic closings of Collier Blvd. for two seasons.
- Mackle Park Community Center: We need to rebuild it. Click here for my argument. Earlier, grandiose plans, which have since been scaled back, have soured many voters. The Community Center fails routinely in polls and surveys (such as by MICA). I am hopeful that it will pass on the referendum scheduled for August 26.
- Unfunded pension liabilities: We're one of the lowest in the state. Click here to see. There's no reason to panic. A healthy discussion would involve deciding the right levels. Many of us would start first by reducing the overall debt, holding unfunded pension liabilities in check until we can discuss a global solution. The Police and Fire Rescue unions will have to be involved at the appropriate time.
- Compensation and benefits: Marco Island's employees are not overpaid. Not the Police. Not Fire Rescue. Not City government. Click here (Pages 8-10) and here (Pages 2-6). Yes, we do have an unusual benefits breakout, under which we give a high percentage (but our pension and health contributions are comparatively lower), in part to make up for lower average salaries and pension contributions. This could be studied.
- Water and sewer rates: Our utility spends more than it has to spend. Marco Island has a state-of-the-art utility that can be maintained using far less capital than Council allows it to spend. Click here for details. We have been caught in a debt spiral: high assets, supported by high debt, requiring high maintenance spending, which unfortunately we augment from City funds from time to time. It doesn't have to be this way. We can reduce debt if we wish to do so. We can reduce water sewer rates if we wish to do so. Or we can do some combination. However, the way we're headed, we're going to increase debt and increase rates.
My presentations, analyses, and points of view
We have some big decisions to make on City Council regarding the budget and our debt levels. The new City Manager has proposed a very different funding structure, one that involves establishing what he calls "buckets" (really, funds) that we would build up systematically, and from which monies would be drawn in the future for regular needs. I won't repeat his slides or his arguments here, but they are worth seeking out. At this point, I want to see more information and listen to my colleagues' viewpoints. In the end, I will work to help reduce the overall debt burden on Marco Island. Here are the facts:
- Marco Island has the highest debt burden in Florida among mid-size municipalities.
- We need to pay down our debt, and we can do it. All it takes is business sense, and will.
- The bond refinancing freed up $6.9 million, and the Water Sewer Utility can generate more free cash in the future. Click here, and see especially Pages 3 and 5.
- The Water Sewer Utility can generate these profits, without a rate increase. Very conservative assumptions still lead to cash build-up. Click here and go to Page 12.
- We are not an overspending, over-indulgent City. We are managed conservatively.
- We live within our means. Most cities have far larger fees and charges, and most cities levy much larger ad valorem taxes. Click here and see Pages 10-12.
- The "fire boat" is not an example of spendthrift. It's a necessary marine rescue vessel, and we're a marine community. Its incremental cost is low. Click here.
- But we need to fix our "spending cap problem," because we haven't been living within the rules required by our City Charter. Click here for my white paper on this.
Several of my colleagues have deep and vast experience on the Water Sewer Utility, which I respect. However, I believe the direction we're taking is not right for the Island. Here are the facts:
- Marco Island's utility charges way above what it costs to run the utility. This is because of interest on debt and depreciation associated with the high-priced assets. Click here.
- We spend far more than required by our bond indenture. We typically spend 10% of revenues vs. 5% required for renewal and replacement. This is unnecessary. Click here.
- The amount we spend is out of line with what similar cities spend. In fact, most water sewer utilities actually pay their cities a return on the city's investment. Click here (Page 4).
- Our water sewer utility actually earns a sizeable profit. If rates stay flat, the utility could generate up to $20 million in 5 years, possibly to reduce debt. Click here (Pages 3 & 5).
- We might need to change the rate structure. But we shouldn't spend more money on consultants nor should we put the Island through another wrenching argument. The new CIty Manager has experience in this area, and he has mustered much supporting material to be reviewed over the next several months.
For more statistical information on Marco Island, from an outside source, please click here. (You will be directed to another website, not controlled by me, and away from my website.)