October 11, 2017

KEY LARGO — The wastewater treatment district board is now tasked with implementing post-Irma staff emergency compensation and procedures, and still at-hand is filling the general manager position which may finally happen next month.

Staff confirmed that four general manager candidates remain interested in the position. The fourth candidate interviewed with staff and commissioners at a public workshop Monday, Oct. 9.

Commissioners did not establish a fulfillment date or a salary, but they did agree that all five members must be present to choose the general manager and will discuss filling the position during a Nov. 7 meeting.

The position was vacated eight months ago when the board did not renew the contract of former manager Paul Christian.

“I suspect this may take some discussions, and we may not be able to decide in the first meeting,” Commissioner Sue Heim said.

Ed Castle of Weiler Engineering presented capital project work authorizations in his dual position as director of operations and engineer. A portion of Castle’s workload “is due to the delay of an incoming manager,” who may be able to shoulder some of his responsibilities.

The board unanimously approved the work authorizations totaling $341,948.

“These are standard agreements brought forward each year. They only get paid to the extent that the work is authorized and he does it, but it provides a framework under which he will get paid,” said district CFO Peter Rosasco, who is serving as interim general manager.

The board also discussed paying employees during Hurricane Irma.

“The existing policy of the board regarding compensation didn’t specify what we would do in the event of an emergency. We didn’t have a track record for this really,” Rosasco said. “I had to make a decision on the appropriate way to handle this. Our policy was that everyone got paid for the 40-hour week, and those who actually worked got time-and-a-half for time they actually worked.”

During Hurricane Irma, the wastewater district offices were closed from Sept. 6 to Sept. 18, for a total of nine work days, which would amount to $15,575 in employee compensation.

Rosasco attributed the length of the closure to the mandatory evacuation, which began Sept. 7 and ended Sept. 12 for Upper Keys residents. The Florida City roadblock for non-residents was lifted Sept. 19. Rosasco said a lack of electricity and internet service also kept the offices closed.

The board members favored giving department heads or exempt employees time-and-a-half compensation as well. There are nine exempt employees, which would bring the compensation total to $21,323.

A formal vote on management pay is expected at the next meeting. The compensation is eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement.

The board also discussed billing ratepayers for the full amount for sewer service during September.

“We were operational. Wastewater was still coming into our system,” Rosasco said.

The district’s sewer fee appears as a line item on monthly water bills issued by the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority. That utility decided two weeks ago to offer customers a 50 percent discount for the 14 days during which it could not provide potable water.

“Customers will see that reduction in their water charge for September, and some into October, but basically the same amount for wastewater,” Rosasco said.

“We may hear more about this,” Commissioner Steve Gibbs opined.

“Customers who had leaks may need to come forward to the aqueduct and address that issue with the aqueduct. We are going to have to have a continuing conversation as a result of this,” Rosasco said.

Heim noted another potential challenge.

“Another issue is that there are properties that don’t exist anymore,” she said. “The aqueduct is still going to have to send out bills and they’re going to see the wastewater charge. It’s going to be on the five of us to answer them.”

The board also unanimously approved the replacement of $58,862 in hurricane-damaged sewer equipment in low-lying areas that flooded. The district has an insurance claim filed with Preferred Government Insurance Trust to cover these damages.

The district deductible is $35,000 for storm damages.

The next Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 17, at 103355 Overseas Highway. A copy of the agenda can be found at klwtd.org. 

tjava@keysnews.com