Florida Keys News
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Toppino to build HOB lot
Millage rate goes up after six years

As expected, Charley Toppino Sons Inc. of Rockland Key was given the go-ahead to build the new parking lot at Horace O'Bryant School, at a Tuesday morning School Board meeting in Key West.

There were no dissenting votes, although District 5 member Ron Martin did inquire, before the vote, about the status of money said to be owed to the district by Toppino for work on a controversial concession stand project, also at HOB.

"What happened to [the money from the stand]?" Martin wondered aloud.

In reply to Martin's remark, several of his colleagues, as well as Superintendent Mark Porter, asked him to keep the two issues separate.

The Toppino bid "does not include any past projects," Porter replied to Martin.

District 3 member Ed Davidson was not at the meeting.

The parking lot is the final piece of the puzzle that is Horace O'Bryant School. Originally, it was assumed the lot would be constructed by Coastal Construction, the Miami-based contractor responsible for building the rest of the school.

However, it was discovered late last year that the lot, as designed, would have had too few parking spots and would not have been ADA-accessible, necessitating a new design.

Following Davidson's election in November, the tone of the negotiations between the board and Coastal changed due to Davidson's repeated public queries about cost savings and responsibility for specific issues with the project, such as the removal of unsuitable soil at the site.

Coastal's final offer to build the lot, including options not included in the Toppino bid, was in the $700,000 range. It was withdrawn by the company during negotiations, setting up a bidding process that ended Tuesday with the Toppino award.

"This was obviously a competitive bid," Porter said at Tuesday's meeting. "We did have three competitive bids on the project ... . This is significantly less that originally projected."

Porter did admit that the $331,997 price agreed upon with the Toppinos for the lot construction might not be the final tally. Lights for the facility have been in storage for two years now, and may have to be repaired or replaced.

"There might be some additional costs incurred," Porter said.

The board on Tuesday also voted to allow interim Director of Finance Jim Drake to advertise in Friday's paper for upcoming public hearings on his projected budget, a necessary step in the budgeting process. A hearing will take place Tuesday; a budget workshop on Aug. 27; and a final hearing, on Sept. 3.

The $83.4 million budget for 2013-14 that Drake proposes includes a rise of 0.021 in the millage rate, bringing it to 3.681 mills, from 3.660 mils, last year.

Put another way, the owners of an average home in Monroe County, valued at $396,000 ($371,000 taxable after calculating the Homestead exemption) will see their property taxes rise by 0.021 mils, or $29.75 from last year.

The enhancement represents the first increase in revenue for the School District in six years.

"What we have presented to the board is a balanced budget," Drake said during his hourlong budget presentation.

The budget, Drake said, takes into consideration a Florida-mandated teacher salary increase allocation, payments to charter schools, additional school-based allocations for gifted programs and language instruction, additional costs related to Dual Enrollment and Virtual Education, and what he called "restorative pay for employees," which has yet to be defined, due to ongoing collective bargaining between the district and the United Teachers of Monroe union.

Also on Tuesday, the board voted unanimously to hire Lisa Hayes-Taylor as the principal of Plantation Key School, on an 11-month contract worth $89,008.


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