Florida Keys News
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Cityhood regaining interest

KEY LARGO -- Private talks have begun among some influential residents about turning Key Largo into a municipality.

Key Largo Wastewater Board member Steve Gibbs is spearheading a group he calls the Key Largo Incorporation Exploratory Committee. Gibbs said the group is investigating the pros and cons of self-governance for Monroe County's largest unincorporated island.

With the exception of wastewater and fire-EMS services, most of Key Largo's municipal-like services, such as planning, public works, community policing and parks and recreation, are provided by the county.

Gibbs describes Key Largo as "the red-headed stepchild" of the county. He says many Key Largo residents feel too much of their tax dollars are used by the county for projects and services elsewhere.

"For the past few years I have heard more and more of my neighbors complain about the condition of the roads and other problems here that seem to be ignored," Gibbs said. "Maybe we have not raised our voices. Until now."

Gibbs said a feasibility study to determine the financial impact of incorporation is in the making, and the group will also review a previous study conducted more than a decade ago when the island last considered city status.

Key Largo voters rejected incorporation in 1999 by a 2-1 margin. Talks resurfaced in 2009, but nothing ever came to fruition.

Gibbs said the group believes incorporation could be possible without increasing property taxes.

In addition to neighborhood road repairs and funding for parks and local projects, Gibbs said incorporation would allow Key Largo residents to have a greater say in coordinating future development.

"I would ask how often Key Largo residents run into the five county commissioners in the market or post office, events that would regularly occur if your neighbor is an Island of Key Largo commissioner?" he asked.

Local contractor and pilot John Sorensen is a member of the committee.

"I'm a numbers guy," Sorensen said. "We need to get a study done."

Sorensen's late father, former state Rep. Ken Sorensen, introduced the legislation in 1999 to allow Key Largo residents to vote on incorporation.

"He always believed the people had the right to choose," Sorensen said of his father, who passed away last summer.

Sorensen said he believed his father was a quiet supporter of incorporation.

Tavernier resident John Hammerstrom, who has attended a committee meeting, said he agrees a feasibility study should be conducted.

"My personal view is we have enough government," said the Coral Coast resident, but he added that he is open to either side of the issue.

Meanwhile, County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy said the group has asked her for some of the county's financial documents, and she passed the request on to the county administrator.

Murphy, however, questions whether incorporation would be financially feasible without the tax base provided by the Ocean Reef Club. The private, gated community in north Key Largo was excluded from the 1999 incorporation effort after it objected to initial plans to include it.

"The minute you eliminate Ocean Reef, there goes your money," Murphy said, adding that the club would still be opposed to being part of an incorporated Key Largo.

"Things are going so well," Murphy said of county government. "This is just an issue that refuses to die."

jgore@keysnews.com

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