Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Uncertainty surrounds district lease

KEY LARGO -- A property lease agreement between the Key Largo Fire-EMS District and a nonfunctioning fire department remains uncertain as the Sept. 9 deadline looms.

Due to unresolved management issues, the Fire-EMS District earlier this year canceled its contract with the Key Largo Volunteer Fire-Rescue Department and asked the Key Largo Ambulance Corps to form and run a new fire department.

However, the former fire department owns the property on which Station 24 and a smaller adjacent building sit, while the district owns the station and most of the equipment inside.

District board member George Mirabella, who is serving as liaison to the old department, says it claims to have a letter showing that the lease agreement is good through December. But no copy of the letter has been proffered. The Free Press was not able to confirm the letter's existence or legitimacy before press time.

"We're extending [the lease agreement] to December," said Theron Simmons, attorney for the fire district. "I'm OK with it."

The lease would require the district to continue to pay the department $1 per month through December.

Simmons said he asked Mirabella to begin handling the negotiations with the old department after failing to get any response from the former department's attorney, Russ Yagel. As a matter of practice, lawyers do not speak directly to the client of another attorney.

In an Aug. 16 letter to Yagel, Simmons expressed concern that firefighters were using old department's smaller building as a weight room. He also claimed that Frank Conklin, president of the former department, and Sergio Garcia, its former chief, were using the district's copy machine without permission.

Yagel did not respond to the letter and also did not return messages left by the Free Press.

At a recent Fire-EMS board meeting, chairwoman Jennifer Miller questioned what plans were in place should a lease agreement not be reached.

"We've got a lot of options on the table that are better than [eminent domain]," Simmons said. "That's like a Plan D or E."

But in light of the ongoing uncertainty, the final public hearing to review the district's budget has been moved from Station 24 to the Ambulance Corps building at mile marker 98.6 in the median. That meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 16.

jgore@keysnews.com

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