Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Saturday, January 19, 2013
County seeks help to pay for lobbyist

County officials are asking Florida Keys municipalities and special districts to help foot the bill for a target lobbyist whose focus will be to secure a $50 million sewer grant.

In an interlocal agreement drafted by the county attorney's office, the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District is asked to pay $26,400 annually for the county's chosen lobbyist.

"They're getting twice as much, so they should pay more," County Administrator Roman Gastesi said, referring to the original distribution formula.

In the agreement, the county and Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority would both pay $24,000. Islamorada would pay $21,600, Marathon $14,400, Key West $8,400 and Key Colony Beach $1,200.

"A party's failure to comply with this requirement shall preclude the distribution of funds to said party in this and in future fiscal years," the agreement says.

Officials at the Key Largo wastewater district were cautious to say they would reap any benefits.

"I have a lot of problems with the 'super-lobbyist' provision as written," District Manager Margaret Blank said. "I think the idea could work in concept, but it needs to be executed properly."

Since the district already has a lobbyist working in Tallahassee to secure a cut of the same grant, Blank wasn't sure the district needed to pay for another.

"At this point, I don't know if this lobbyist is necessary or not," she said. "It's all stick, no carrot. This has to work for all the parties involved or it just won't fly."

In Marathon, City Manager Roger Hernstadt said he had little problem with the agreement.

Hernstadt said the benefits from the grant money far outweigh the investment risk with the county's lobbyist.

"While it may be partially redundant, it may still be worth it," he said.

Hernstadt said he needed time to meet with Gastesi before offering the agreement to his City Council.

Officials from the wastewater district, Gastesi and state Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, were expected to have a conference call next week to work out more details.

The money the parties are trying to secure is part of a $200 million state grant approved by the Florida Legislature to help pay for the construction of wastewater systems. Though the grant was approved, each Legislature has to include the money in its annual budget for it to be disbursed.

So far, the state has only handed out $50 million of the grant money.

The Florida Keys are under a mandate to connect to advanced sewer treatment systems by December 2015. Failure to meet the deadline could result in the forfeiture of some of the funds.

jgore@keysnews.com

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