Florida Keys News
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Mowing, lighting issues raise ire

MARATHON -- The Marathon City Council expressed disappointment with the height of grass along the Overseas Highway, especially on Grassy Key, during last week's council meeting.

Mayor Pete Worthington said the city needs to "make sure our front porch looks as nice as it possibly can."

The responsibility for mowing along U.S. 1 rests with the Florida Department of Transportation, which budgets about $20,000 to cover 12 cuttings a year.

Marathon City Manager Roger Hernstadt said FDOT's budget is insufficient to fund the frequency of mowing needed in the city and the agency has declined to increase mowings.

The council discussed taking over the responsibility for mowing from FDOT. In that case, the state agency would reimburse the city for the current contract value and Marathon would be responsible for paying any difference.

"The delta between what they pay us and what it costs [to keep grass mowed] may not be worth it," Hernstadt said.

"We can do supplemental mowing, particularly during the rainy season," he suggested.

Referring to FDOT, Councilwoman Ginger Snead said, "They don't suffer. Our town suffers. Our residents suffer."

She asked the city's staff to prepare a comparison of FDOT's mowing schedule and what the city believes is necessary, including the cost of each. Hernstadt remarked that information has already been prepared and presented, but offered to dust it off and update the figures.

Vice Mayor Dick Ramsay suggested meeting with FDOT representatives "at the highest level possible" to get them to acknowledge "what they do isn't sufficient."

While Hernstadt concurred that more frequent mowing is needed, he reminded the council that the statewide policy differentiates between mowing for aesthetics, which the town desires, versus mowing for safety, which the state requires.

On the topic of FDOT responsibilities, the council agreed to accept more than $19,000 from the agency to take over maintenance of state highway lighting from mile marker 47.5 to 55.5. Marathon's streetlights were recently rewired, but several are already out.

FDOT applies a statewide formula to determine the level of funding received by the city for the operation and maintenance of lights. One major criticism by the city of that formula is the lack of variation to address higher costs of electricity and repair material experienced throughout the Keys.

The city has asked FDOT to examine its formula and make adjustments for local fluctuation of costs. The difference between what FDOT allocates and actual costs is funded by the city's budget.

While expressing his frustration with the multitude of non-functioning streetlights, Councilman Mike Cinque also questioned the need for the 158 poles in the eight-mile maintenance area.

"How many lights do we need?" Cinque asked. "I drive through Key Largo and Islamorada and they're not lit up like a runway."

Cinque asked how much Marathon could scale back on street lighting and still be in compliance with FDOT requirements. He used the opportunity to remind the council and city staff of his request for a study of FDOT's lighting requirements.

Cinque likened the town's hesitation to tackle the lighting issue to kicking a can down the road, leaving it for others to deal with in the future.

Worthington agreed.

"It's time to stop kicking the can," he said.

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