Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
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Governor, Cabinet to meet in Keys
Rep. Ron Saunders hopes final approval for wastewater funding is part of trip

Gov. Rick Scott is expected to visit the Florida Keys next month -- his third time as governor -- and this time he will bring the Florida Cabinet with him.

Scott told Keys state Rep. Ron Saunders last week that he was planning on conducting Cabinet meetings throughout the state, and there was discussion of a meeting in the Keys the first week of May, Saunders said.

County Commissioner George Neugent said he also heard talk of a Cabinet meeting in the Keys when a contingent of local leaders were in Tallahassee last month for Florida Keys Day.

"They were talking about having a get-away Cabinet meeting, and they wanted it in the Keys," Neugent said. "They were working on it."

The governor's spokeswoman, Amy Graham, on Monday confirmed there are plans for a Cabinet meeting in Marathon on May 8.

Saunders hopes the trip will include a bill-signing ceremony, with the governor signing off on a $50 million allocation for Keys wastewater projects. The funding is included in the Legislature's budget, which awaits Scott's signature. It calls for Keys governments to receive the first $50 million of $200 million that was appropriated in 2007, but never allocated.

Saunders said he cautioned the governor that he would not be welcomed with open arms in the Keys if the bill was not signed.

"The meeting would turn more into the focus of a protest," Saunders said.

The Keys are under a state mandate that all properties be connected to advanced wastewater treatment systems by Dec. 31, 2015. However, several Keys governments lack the financing to complete the wastewater projects.

The county needs its $30 million portion of the $50 million to start construction of the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater Treatment System. The county has $20 million in reserves earmarked for the Cudjoe project, which will cost about $150 million to complete. The county plans to use sales tax revenue and bonded money to pay the remaining costs.

A group of residents who will be served the by the Cudjoe regional project have launched a petition drive to dissuade the county from placing an excessive financial burden on residents. Dozens of residents have signed the petition, which asks the county to not begin work on the Cudjoe project, or invoke any fees, until the county has secured state and/or federal money for the project, said Cudjoe Key resident Larry Francisco, who has been gathering signatures.

In the past, state and federal grant money has subsidized the costs of Keys wastewater treatment systems. Residents who have already connected to regional systems are being charged amounts that range from $2,700 several years ago to $6,400 per home in recent years.

"We are not asking for anything more than any other Keys property owners have been given," Francisco said. "We just want to be treated like everyone else."

The Cudjoe project will be "pencils down" if the governor does not sign the funding bill, Neugent said.

tohara@keysnews.com

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