Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
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State budgets $1M apiece for Marathon and Key Largo

KEY LARGO -- While the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District and the city of Marathon aren't getting the $20 million each was banking on, state legislators did pencil in $1 million for each area before leaving Tallahassee last Friday.

The funding, however, can only be used for projects that create new jobs, and not to pay down debt, which the two entities had intended to do with the larger allotments.

It is unknown if Gov. Rick Scott will veto the $2 million before signing the state budget.

Peter Rosasco, a Marathon accountant who works for both entities, said Key Largo could use the money to help so-called unique properties -- those that lie outside of the regular sewer service area -- meet state-mandated wastewater treatment standards.

District Manager Margaret Blank has previously said she delayed some work in case state funds could only be used for shovel-ready projects.

"I'll take it," Blank said of the $1 million. "It certainly helps with the construction we still have to do."

Blank and the Key Largo Wastewater Board believe their island's residents are being punished with higher assessments than other areas of unincorporated Monroe County even though they started their project sooner. The district is carrying $81 million in debt for sewer contruction.

County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy has told the Free Press her focus is on completing the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System before the December 2015 deadline, not on the debt of the Key Largo district.

The Cudjoe project is the last area the county has to finish by the deadline. Marathon's project is mostly completed, and Islamorada broke ground on its sewer system earlier this year.

Rosasco said he will meet with Marathon and Key Largo officials to determine what projects the money can fund.

Meanwhile, Blank said the district will begin working soon to secure the $20 million in grant money during the 2014 legislative session.

"Presumably, the county wants to see that corrected as much as the citizens of Key Largo do," Blank said in an email. "If true, I'm sure we'll see a better-coordinated lobbying effort next year."

Bringing that money to the Keys was a major campaign plank of freshman state Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, who took office last November. Raschein will get another chance to deliver the funding next session before running for re-election.

jgore@keysnews.com

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