********* UPDATE APRIL 8, 2020 – CLICK HERE *********
The April 6 meeting of the Marco Island City Council began as a focused and upbeat meeting, with Councilor Honig leading a discussion relative to the positive nature regarding council’s refinancing of $60 million dollars in debt for the Marco Island Utility.
The drastic reduction in rates surrounding the volatile financial markets the last several weeks would result in the ability of the city to take advantage of those fluctuations, subsequently resulting in a savings to Marco Island Utility customers of about $6 million.
Councilor Honig would go on to praise the work done by Chair Erik Brechnitz and City Finance Director Gill Polanco for their ability to move quickly to acquire the windfall for Marco citizens during the turbulent marketplace conditions. “In 2013 we refinanced these same bonds when we said rates cannot get any lower let’s refinance these now,” said Honig. “Well, they did and they brought it in at below 2%. It came in at 1.87%, a heck of a lot lower,” said an ecstatic Honig.
The issue which brought the most discussion during the meeting centered around access to the beach. Only a few days after Governor DeSantis signed an executive order which would require residents of the state to limit their travel to all, but essential movement council would debate and eventually by a slim margin vote to reopen two public access points.
The city would vote to close those two access points under their control two weeks ago, after the City of Naples and Collier County closed those beaches. The county would also close the South Beach Access point in addition to their Swallow Avenue parking area. MICA would join with the county and city in closing their parking facilities at Sarazen Park on Swallow Avenue also.
All of these actions were taken after beaches in Miami/Dade County and Broward County were overrun with Spring Break vacationers and social distancing ignored. Government leaders in Collier County, Naples and Marco Island feared an influx of beach enthusiasts relocating to this side of the state and possibly increasing the spread of the COVID-19 in our area.
Some on Marco Island would complain the only access to the beach was now being allowed through the hotels and condominiums. Councilman Victor Rios would complain that we had created two classes of citizens, one with access and one without. Others would praise the action as an effort to help reduce unnecessary travel and social interaction which could cause a spread of the deadly virus.
At the start of their discussions regarding the beach and the COViD-19 challenges, Stephanie Vick of the Florida Department of Health would give an overview of where Collier County stood in the battle against the COVID-19 Virus. She reported that Collier County had 249 cases of the virus, 44 of those were non-residents from outside Collier. They expect the peak in Florida to be around the first week of May. There are presently five confirmed cases on Marco at this time.
Ms. Vick would report there are presently 50 patients in Intensive Care Units (ICU) throughout the county with another 21 ICU beds available, but she would also report the numbers of admissions is rising as each day passes.
In the status report given by Chief Frazzano the numbers continue to show a reduction in traffic coming across the bridge to the island. She would also report that hotel occupancy levels are staying about the same. Individuals on the beach vary some between 150 to 500 people at the maximum level.
Frazzano would also comment that misinformation which continues to show up in social media posts are very disheartening and complicates their jobs. She would stress that if resident see something that they reach out to the P.D. to report that information or question what is being said though outside sources.
The majority of email comments being read at the meeting were from beachfront condominium owners who feared loss of access to the beach area.
There were three options which council would review regarding beach access.
- Option 1 No Changes to present status.
- Option 2 No access to anyone, including beachfront units.
- Option 3 Change formula to allow more access.
At least two motions failed before Councilman Reed suggested the following after considerable discussion.
- That the two controlled public access points belonging to the city be reopened. (One is by the Hilton Hotel and the other by the Madeira Condominiums. They’re approximately half mile apart.)
- The re-opening would happen the Monday after Easter. (April 13)
- That one be for ingress and one for egress / no two-way traffic.
- The access points would be open from dawn to dusk.
The motion to approve the plan was 4-3 in favor with Councilors Grifoni, Brechnitz, Rios and Reed in favor of the motion. Councilors Roman, Young and Honig opposed to the plan.
Some that have heard of the plans question several aspects of the proposal.
- Lack of public parking and the impact on neighborhoods near those access points.
- The lack of public sanitary facilities and restrooms.
- How will trash be handled both on the beach and at the entry and exit points.
- The requirement to walk a half mile to the exit when once on the beach and another half mile back to where the vehicle is parked.
- Who will be responsible for enforcement of the details of the plan.
The council will meet again on April 20 at 5:30pm in Council Chambers at the City Hall Campus.