ISLAMORADA -- It doesn't look like village residents will vote on three proposed charter amendments this year after all.
At its meeting last Thursday, the Village Council reversed the tentative decision it made last month to bring forward three referenda on either the August primary or November general election.
The initiatives would have asked voters whether they want to elect the mayor directly, whether they'd like to see council terms increased from two years to four years, and whether they'd like the council to be elected at-large rather than on a seat-by-seat basis.
Council members decided 4-1 not to proceed with referenda.
Councilman Dave Purdo, who has pushed hard for the votes, remained strongly in favor of going forward with the ballot measures. He told his colleagues that everyone he'd spoken to was in support of the proposed referenda. To not allow a vote, he said, would amount to dictating to the people.
"That's putting us no better than any country," Purdo said. "Cuba, Iraq, right now with Russia -- Putin, taking over a community. That's not letting the people vote."
Purdo's colleagues saw things differently, expressing confidence that the referenda would lose. In 2004 and 2006, more than 60 percent of Islamorada voters cast ballots in favor of two-year terms.
"Like Dave said, he hasn't found anybody who didn't agree with him," Councilman Mike Forster said. "I haven't found anybody who's even talked to me about it."
In a separate item last week, the council moved further along the path of toughening the rules on towing companies that operate in the village.
The board accepted the proposal of Forster, who, due to complaints about the practices of Guy's Towing is seeking to reduce the maximum amount haulers can charge. Complainants say that Guy's charges $400 and up -- prices that correspond with Guy's bills viewed in 2012 by the Free Press.
After speaking with All-American Towing and Wheaton's Service Center, the two other wreckers in the Upper Keys, Forster suggested several reductions to the maximum allowable charges on the village's towing price schedule.
Notably, he said the town should eliminate the $135 per hour labor charge that towers can levy. The after-hours fee, he said, should drop from $75 to a maximum of $50. And the fee for dropping vehicles that are on the hook before they are hauled should max out at $67.50. A late January Guy's receipt viewed by the Free Press showed a drop fee of $200.
Towing prices would vary depending upon how far the location of the haul is from the wrecker's office, but under the proposed rates, a haul from Upper Matecumbe Key to central Key Largo would cost approximately $275, provided the vehicle is retrieved within six hours.
The council directed Village Attorney Roget Bryan to write the new ordinance.
Finally, the council directed staff to move ahead with development of a plan to counter the anticipated impacts of sea level rise. The council specifically asked for an analysis of the cost of going through the planning process, as well as details on potential grants and partnerships with other governments.
Planner Shane Laakso said after the meeting that the village would likely borrow much of the approach that Monroe County is already implementing as it decides how to deal with rising seas.
The South Florida sea level has risen 9 inches over the past 100 years. But the rate of the rise has been quickening as global temperatures increase. The Southeast Regional Climate Compact, comprised of Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, projects that sea level will rise 3 to 7 inches more by 2030 and 9 to 24 inches more by 2060. Even a foot of sea level rise would make 68 percent of the Keys vulnerable to flooding, according to the compact.
Monroe County began its planning process by approving a 72-point Climate Action Plan in November. The county has since hired a consultant to begin identifying infrastructure most vulnerable to sea level rise. Public scoping sessions are to begin this spring or summer in Key Largo, County Sustainability Coordinator Rhonda Haig told the council last week.
She also said that the consultant, Erin Deady, is prepared to allow the village to piggyback on the county process, leading to savings.
She explained that one of three things must be done to protect infrastructure from rising seas. Cities can fortify their assets, relocate them or protect them.