Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Three workshops on proposed changes

ISLAMORADA -- The Village Council will convene for separate workshops over the next six days to discuss the creation of a dependent Islamorada wastewater district, the future of the town's legal department and efforts to streamline the planning and permitting process.

The first workshop, about the wastewater district, is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6, in the Founders Park Community Center. Joining the council will be the members of Islamorada's water quality committee, including Chairman Dave Makepeace, who has led the push for the inauguration of a district that would handle the village's day-to-day sewer affairs.

At a Village Council meeting in December, Makepeace said that initially the council would select the board, making the district a dependent one. But the board could potentially segue to an elected body, though probably no sooner than the 2016 election, he said in a Monday interview.

Either way, the district could have important responsibilities, including managing Islamorada's $91 million contract with Reynolds Water Islamorada, interacting with Key Largo related to the interlocal sewage treatment between the two towns and dealing with customer service and conflict resolution.

Makepeace said that more than anything he wants the council to take a clear direction on the concept during the Wednesday workshop.

"My personal goal is that this gets moved on or put to bed," he said.

During a council discussion last month, Vice Mayor Ted Blackburn and Councilman Mike Forster were supportive of establishing a wastewater district. The concept, however, was met with considerably less enthusiasm from Councilwoman Deb Gillis and Mayor Ken Philipson.

At their second workshop this week, to be held Friday morning, Feb. 8, the council will once again tackle the oft-discussed topic of hiring an in-house attorney to do much of the work currently handled by the Weiss Serota law firm. Nina Boniske, a partner at the Coral Gables-based firm, has served as the village's lead attorney since incorporation in 1998.

According to Finance Department records, the village has spent in the neighborhood of $1 million annually on day-to-day legal services and litigation since the 2005-06 fiscal year. During that time the village has recovered a total of approximately $1.3 million in settlements and fee reimbursements, almost all of it in a $1.25 million settlement last year with the builder of the problematic north Plantation Key wastewater system.

Councilman Dave Purdo, along with Philipson and Forster, have expressed concern about those costs. They have repeatedly said they want to bring in an in-house attorney to handle day-to-day legal work, though they are OK with keeping Weiss Serota on to handle litigation. Blackburn and Gillis have expressed no enthusiasm for such a move, however, and question whether it would, in fact, lead to cost savings.

The legal department workshop will also begin at 10 a.m. at the Founders Park Community Center.

The council's third workshop will be an evening affair. Council members, as well as planning and building department staffers, will attend the planning and permitting workshop Monday, Feb. 11, for what the village has previously said will be a relatively informal back and forth with the public. The workshop will follow immediately after a meeting of the village Local Planning Agency at 5:30 p.m.

The council is pushing to reduce red tape on basic permits and to ease development restrictions on larger projects. However, the LPA recently unanimously rejected a sweeping proposal put forth by Village Manager Ed Koconis to do away with the village's limit on the amount of commercial space that can be built annually.

During the workshop, the council is expected to install an ad-hoc committee to address planning and permitting concerns.

rsilk@keysnews.com

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