Friday, January 28, 2022

Council Meets to Strategize With Lobbyist

Photo by Steve Stefanides | Lobbyist Ron Book addresses city council.

When the City of Marco Island’s Tallahassee lobbyist, Ronald Book, met with city councilors on Monday evening, he gave them a blunt assessment of why the major capital project they sought support for in 2018 from the Florida Legislature was less than successful. That request involved seeking $8.5 million dollars for the construction of a gymnasium and academic room complex for Marco Island Academy, a public charter high school that serves students from Marco Island and Collier County.

At council’s first presentation to the Collier County Legislative Delegation, where council sought support for this project in the 2018 budget bill covering the 2018 budget, State Representative Byron Donalds suggested that they should first appear before the School District to request that funding, as MIA is a Collier County public charter high school.

Although that presentation was subsequently made, the request was rejected by the board. The District would provide the high performing school with a promise of a share of the funds that are to be received from the sale of the Tract-K proceeds. That would amount to approximately $1.2 million to be provided to the public charter high school for their building project.

During last year’s strategy session between Book and city councilors, he unsuccessfully attempted to educate the councilors as to the reason he believed the request would be rejected by the Florida Legislature. His fears were subsequently borne out when the legislature rejected the request for funding.

On Monday evening, Book made a similar attempt to mentor the council on what legislators may find as palatable large ticket capital items. Again, a major hurricane and the relief efforts revolving around rebuilding communities, including the hardening of municipal structures and infrastructure modernization, are anticipated to be front and center on legislators’ radars. Last year it was Hurricane Irma, this year it is Hurricane Michael.

Councilor Victor Rios made a passionate appeal to Book to concentrate on the safety and security of students as well as projects that would involve stormwater improvements that might be considered.

Book would be sympathetic to Rios’ desires for a school. “Our job is to give you advice and counseling on these matters. The money for dollars for a charter high school would be a heavy lift now and I would not want to give you too much encouragement on this,” said Book.

A suggestion from councilors involved “repackaging” of the request as a combination multi-use facility to withstand a CAT-5 hurricane and school facility. That type of project might have some salability, or a better chance with some on the legislative level.

In the end, councilors focused on three projects they could get behind and looked for some additional feedback from Book. Those three items included the following:

  •   CAT-5 Evacuation/Education Facility (Initial estimates at $12.5 million and may house first responders and necessary municipal and utility staff).
  •   Rebuild of Station 50 for Fire/Rescue Department ($4 million from legislative grant and $3 million from city).
  •   Comprehensive multi-year storm water management and control for center of island ($700,00 initial request).

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