Commissioner Donna Fiala held a town hall meeting at the Rose Hall Auditorium on March 2. In her opening remarks, Fiala welcomed the packed auditorium and praised Marco Island for its many accomplishments.
County Manager Leo Ochs addressed the audience in assurance that the City of Marco Island and Collier County staff are a team working closely together to effectively maintain a budget in efforts for our taxes to be held the same. He said, “We need to prepare for the future while catching up on deferrals of the past.”
Division Director of Museums Ron Jamro was joined by Marco Island Historical Society (MIHS) President and Executive Director Pat Rutledge. It was reported that in January 5,900 people visited the Marco Island Historical Museum, while in February, there were 5,400 visitors. The museum’s Calusa Gallery received the 2015 Museum of Excellence Award from the Florida Association of Museums for excellence in presentation of early Native American cultures. MIHS is working on a loan application process in order to return the famous artifact, the Key Marco Cat, to the museum. The artifact currently resides in a vault at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC. Another exciting project of the MIHS is the “Windows and Doors” series where 17 window and three door panels at the museum will feature work created by local artists to depict the history of Marco Island from pre-historic times to present day.
Coastal Management Programs Manager Gary McAlprin spoke about ongoing projects to restore and regrade Marco Island’s beach. Currently, a sand gift from the Marriott has begun to be applied to the area just north of Residents’ Beach in a process to fill in and build up areas plagued by ponding, puddling, and algae growth. There are plans for the Hideaway district to give sand, a by-product of their dredging for this cause. The county is in the process of securing a permitto take sand from the inter-tidal surf area. There are also plans to restore the areas of erosion at South Marco Beach in November 2016.
Deputy County Manager Nick Casalanguida discussed the necessity of reconstructing Goodland Road, an issue that has gained much recent media attention. The road has a problem with flooding. There is no definitive timetable set for the reconstruction. Federal and state funding is available, but Casalanguida stated that the City of Marco Island and Collier County would need agreement and partnership in order to proceed.
Planning Commission Chief Hearing Examiner Mark Strain, along with Commissioner Fiala, informed the audience of the recent and upcoming commercial developments, particularly in the 951/41 and 41/Triangle Boulevard areas. A cheer from former New Jersey residents went up from the crowd at the mention of WaWa, a chain of convenience store/gas stations coming to the area. Other new businesses will include Hobby Lobby, to be located behind the Outback, and the development of Restaurant Row in the same area. Along with the (newly-opened) Stein Mart at the intersection of 951/41, other stores including PetSmart, Michael’s, Ross, Marshall’s, and Ulta Salon are scheduled to open in May. Lucky’s Market and the restaurant 21 Spices are also new additions to the East Naples area; both businesses are already open and receiving praise from customers.
Additionally, Commissioner Fiala discussed the continuing saga of 8770 Davis Blvd., or the neglected “Skeleton Building,” as it is not so fondly nicknamed. Due to its unsightly appearance and a series of code violations, she expressed her wishes that the building will eventually be torn down.
Collier County Chief Walter Kopka and Marco Island Chief Mike Murphy discussed the EMS Response/Fire District consolidation issue that has been widely reported in local media. Chief Kopka explained the inter-local agreement that exists between Collier County and Marco Island at this time, allowing Marco Island to have an effective paramedic/EMS system. EMSis the transport phase of this system. (A straw vote question regarding the consolidation of Fire and EMS in unincorporated Collier County appeared on the March 15 ballot in those areas. Marco Island, as an incorporated city, as well as Naples and Everglades City, was not included in the vote.) Marco Island Chief Murphy gave praise to Chief Kopka in the effectiveness of the present inter-local agreement. Chief Murphy very creatively used props of a toy-size ambulance and fire truck, on loan from his grandson that evening, to demonstrate the need for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (COPCN) that would enable Marco Island to have local control of transport and paramedic services if needed in the future. Donna Fiala expressed her opinion that she saw no reason why Marco Island, as an incorporated city, should be denied that certificate.
Commissioner Fiala made available a letter from Commissioner Tom Henning, District 3. He stated, “If the voters vote in favor it will take several years to establish a countywide Fire and EMS. I question why there is such hysteria when the results won’t be in effect for several years.” Perhaps if the County had put in place a public outreach program on this issue, or took an official action to assure its support of Marco’s COPCN efforts, Marco Islanders would be less nervous. Henning went on to say, “I have no problem voting to grant a certificate if any agency or City complies with our ordinance that governs a COPCN, accepts uniform county-wide standards for certification of ambulance or advanced life support services and will not be a financial burden to the County.”
These discussions were followed by a question and answer session among the audience. Commissioner Fiala concluded the meeting by saying that she looks forward to continuously informing her constituents on Marco Island of new developments in the business of Collier County through her column in the Coastal Breeze News.