City of Marco Island continues to take steps to implement its short-term rental registration program, a referendum passed at the polls in August and was approved as an ordinance by City Council in December.
In late 2022, the city signed a contract with local government service GovOS to implement the program. Additionally, six full-time positions were added to city staff to accommodate it, with two full-time workers — a rental program supervisor and permit clerk — making up the new short-term rental department. Two full-time fire inspectors also will be hired along with two more code enforcement officers.
On Dec. 23, the city provided GovOS the property and parcel data needed to begin investigations on homes being used as short-term rentals. Implementation of the project is approximately halfway finished.
“In this time, we have been able to compress the original project timeline from 16 weeks down to 12 with the target now that we will be able to implement this program and open it to the public for registration in mid-March or around March 15 of this year,” Short-term Rental Program Supervisor Jim Kornas said.
To assist short-term rental owners in preparing for their fire inspections, Marco Island Fire Marshal Jennifer Pierce comprised a self-assessment survey to ensure rentals are up to standard for when fire inspectors assess the home.
“[Pierce] and her team have put this together in a way that should make it very easy that if an owner is wishing to really make sure they get fire inspection approval right the first time, that they’re scheduled for an inspection that can be handled just through going through that assessment and making sure their property complies,” Kornas said.
Since debate of the ordinance began on the island, there has been constant discussion of what exactly defines a transient rental. The particular definition, according to state statute, speaks to homes renting their space for less than a month more than three times a year or a property advertised for rent. The latter requirement has become cause for confusion.
“We want to be able to give people some clarity in terms of what the Council is expecting, in terms of what is the desire, whether we just want to limit this to short-term rentals less than a month or are we interested also in asking those who are renting the property for a month or more at a time to also include themselves in the registration process,” Kornas said.
Kornas presented a proposal to amend the transient lodging establishment definition by removing the portion on property advertised for rent. He hoped it would provide more clarity for rentals of 30 days or longer which advertise as regularly rented homes.
Councilor Rich Blonna recalled speaking out against changing the definition of something defined by state statute. “I think people had multiple opportunities to make their positions on this known and to go in now, after this ordinance passed, and want to change language that actually is part of the state statute, that I can’t support. And I don’t know if it’s legal,” Blonna said.
City Attorney Alan Gabriel agreed with the recommendation not to change the definition of a transient rental.
“It is my recommendation that we leave the language alone because there will be other areas in this ordinance that will presumably need to be modified or clarified as time progresses. And if you start nitpicking little pieces, we’ll be doing this every other meeting,” he said.
City Council directed staff not to require people who rent for 30 days or longer to be covered by the statute at this point.
One of the provisions of the referendum stated no money from the city’s general fund should be put toward implementation of the ordinance as it will only use money from registration fees. Councilor Erik Brechnitz was concerned about where funding for the project will come from prior to any registration fees being collected.
“We need to identify what costs have been expended to date, staff time in particular, quantify what that is and make that a payable item out of this rental and make it a receivable item into our general fund,” Brechnitz said.
Assistant City Manager Casey Lucius said staff working on the project records time sheets to keep track of how much money is to be returned to the general fund once registration begins.
Vice-Chair Jared Grifoni sought to ensure money spent on the program dates back to when the referendum passed in August, rather than since December when the ordinance was approved by Council. Gabriel alone has recorded almost $20,000 in time spent on the ordinance.
“On the money, I believe that that has to go back to the ordinance referendum date because there was a lot of general fund taxpayer dollars from non-STR owners and residents on the island that went from understanding the referendum, bringing it to council, all the work that staff did up until December of 2022 and beyond that needs to be accounted for,” Grifoni said.
City staff continues to work through details of the ordinance, maintaining the goal of completion by March 15.