KEY LARGO -- The Key Largo Wastewater Board came to a stalemate last week over whether to charge its ratepayers an additional $59,000 this year for reimbursed compensation to board members.
The 2-2 deadlock, with Robby Majeska absent, came just two weeks after the board unanimously voted to ask the state Legislature to replace a defunct cost-of-living index in its charter, which would effectively increase each member's per-meeting compensation from $300 to $382. The board has not received an increase in compensation since 2002.
Spearheading the latest move for back pay was board member Andy Tobin, who could receive thousands in owed funds if the charter is changed. Due to the statute of limitations, reimbursement would extend back no more than four years.
Such an adjustment could provide even former board members like Susan Hammaker a big paycheck.
"Suzy should get a check. She put in years of work. And if it means cutting her a check for $8,000 for the past four years, then I think we should do it," Tobin said during last week's meeting.
Board member Norm Higgins, who also would receive back pay, supported Tobin's proposal.
"We've never gotten any kind of raise for nine years, since this district's been in existence," Higgins said.
Newly-elected member Steve Gibbs, though, stopped the conversation and proposed a motion to leave things as they are and to not seek back pay. Recently-appointed board member David Asdourian agreed with Gibbs, but their motion failed to pass.
Initially, staff advised the board that increasing per-meeting compensation going forward would have limited impact on the budget, but that was before Chief Information Officer Paul Christian realized the board was contemplating four years of back pay.
"Just for the sake of disclosure, it's a $59,000 impact," Christian told the board.
"That's a big number," District Manager Margaret Blank said.
Some board members felt there could be a backlash from the public.
"It's appearance, Norman, that's what the issue is," Asdourian said. "Fifty-nine thousand dollars is a big chunk of change."
Recently, the board made a fuss about how their prior vote for an increase in compensation was portrayed in the Free Press and wrote a letter to the editor disputing that the increase was a raise.
"How would look now if we were to go back and retract that, then come back and give previous and now existing board members monies that would total up to $59,000?" Asdourian said.
In arguing for the back pay, Tobin repeatedly said the board was not giving itself a raise.
"This is a vested right that the Legislature granted to us," Tobin said. "It's money that is rightfully due."
Contacted after the meeting, Hammker told the Free Press she disagrees with Tobin's assessment.
"They're trying to make themselves look good. Whatever they call it, it's a raise," Hammaker said.
She said she opposes the board handing out back pay and would donate any money given to her.
After last week's meeting, Blank, Christian and Higgins did not return phone calls from the Free Press seeking comment about how the $59,000, if approved, would be distributed. Asdourian said he was ill and was unable to speak when contacted.
The matter was expected to come back before the board Tuesday, Feb. 12, when Majeska was to be in attendance. Results from that meeting were not available at press time.