Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Council debates how to deal with sewer back-billing

ISLAMORADA -- The Village Council was scheduled to decide Tuesday whether to cover the back sewer bills owed by residents of the Woods Corner affordable housing complex.

Paying for the bills would cost the village's affordable housing fund approximately $28,000, according to Village Manager Ed Koconis. Monies in the fund come from fees the village charges for development.

At their meeting last Thursday, a majority of the council appeared ready to support the subsidies, which would range between $500 and $2,200 for owners of the 16 deed-restricted affordable units at Woods Corner, as well one other deed-restricted north Plantation Key home.

Those and seven other homes received back sewer bills in April after it was discovered by state auditors that they hadn't been charged by the village and the town's billing agent the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority for sewer service over periods ranging between three and 51 months.

However, the council held off on taking a formal vote on the back bills last week because the issue wasn't included in the agenda published ahead of the meeting.

Council members did hold a robust debate on the matter, however, with Vice Mayor Ken Philipson strongly in favor of forgiving the back bills and Mayor Michael Reckwerdt also expressing support.

"These people did not do wrong and it was not their fault," Philipson said. "We have the money in the trust fund. I think it is a good use of this money and appropriate."

Councilman Dave Purdo pushed for covering the bills as well, but he has been advised by village attorney Nina Boniske not to vote on the matter because his daughter is one of the Woods Corner owners.

Councilman Don Achenberg came out against subsidies, arguing instead for long-term payment plans tailored so that each homeowner will be able to absorb the monthly hit.

"Where's the verification of need?" Achenberg said, referencing documents the Woods Corner owners were required to submit before they were qualified to purchase their homes.

Tuesday's deciding vote may have belonged to Councilman Ted Blackburn, who said multiple times last Thursday that he would vote to forgive the Woods Corners back bills, but who also expressed reservations about doing so because the expense would affect village coffers.

Blackburn's position sparked a sharp retort from Purdo.

"Do you like helping anybody? I just got to ask that question," Purdo said.

"You never look at the big picture," Blackburn shot back. "You like helping one person and if it hurts 10 that's fine with you."

Woods Corner Homeowners Association President Marshall Smith pushed for the council to cover the back bills, telling board members that the extra cost would be tough for families with a limited budget to absorb, even on a payment plan.

"We're asking for help. That's all were asking," he said.

The Tuesday vote was scheduled for after press time.

rsilk@keysnews.com

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