Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Sewer district manager gets $7K raise

KEY LARGO -- The local wastewater chief didn't get the raise she was seeking, but board members met her half way.

Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District Manager Margaret Blank, who is currently making $111,000 annually, will receive $118,000 under the terms of a new one-year contract, which is $7,000 less than the salary she requested.

In negotiations, she told the board she would not accept a two-year contract at that rate.

"[Former District Manager Chuck Fishburn] made in the 140s," Blank said. "... It wouldn't be hard to find a better deal elsewhere."

Blank proceeded to compare her salary to that of Marathon City Manager Roger Hernstadt and Islamorada Village Manager Ed Koconis.

"Certainly you know a city has more to deal with," board member Steve Gibbs said.

Offering Blank a lower salary with a bonus of $7,500 to $10,000 was discussed, but did not pan out. The bonus would have awarded Blank for handling the district's finances when former Finance Director Sal Zapulla abruptly quit in late 2011, weeks before he was criminally charged with hacking into the district's computer network. The case has yet to be resolved.

But the board wants to see an end game for senior management raises.

"Where does it stop?," board member Norm Higgins asked. "More money, more money."

Board member Andy Tobin said he wanted to introduce a salary range for each senior position, so future boards would have a guideline to follow.

He said the ceiling for the district manager's position should be $125,000 annually -- a figure he says Blank can work toward over the next few years.

The board also rejected increasing Blank's vacation time from 12 to 18 days. She also is paid for 10 federal holidays.

In a brief discussion, the board decided not to seek back pay over the last four years for its members. Board members have not received annual cost-of-living increases in their per-meeting pay due to the repeal of an index included in the district's charter. Awarding the back pay would have cost the district $59,000, according to staff.

"This is not going to happen under my watch," board member Robby Majeska said last week. He was absent when the board previously debated the matter.

Tobin and Higgins initially called for pursuing back pay, but Gibbs and board member David Asdourian were opposed.

Majeska and Higgins said last week that they both had conversations with state Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, who advised them not to seek the back pay.

Given recent board actions, including its request for a 27 percent per-meeting raise this year for board members and a long-winded debate last fall with the governor's office to avoid a special election, Raschein did not want to lobby for back pay, Majeska said.

jgore@keysnews.com

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