KEY LARGO -- What had been kept out of the court system for more than a year has now festered into a lawsuit.
The Key Largo Fire-EMS District is suing its former fire service contractor over a land dispute at Station 24 at mile marker 99.
Dirk Smits, attorney for the district, filed the nine-page lawsuit against the Key Largo Volunteer Fire-Rescue Department on July 3.
The suit accuses the former department of breach of contract and of failing to return excess tax dollars it had received from the district before its contract was voided in the spring of 2013. Smits contends that the department's property should belong to the district since it performs a similar service at the site.
The district now has a service contract with a different department made up of the same firefighters but with new management.
Since the separation, the district and the former department have been at odds over control of the fire station property. Records show the former department owns the land and a smaller building on the site, while the district owns the fire station. District officials, however, contend that the property belongs to the community.
The smaller building is currently being leased by the district, whose six-month agreement expires this fall.
A recent district-commissioned inspection of the smaller building found several problems, including roof and ceiling issues, cracks in the concrete foundation, exposed wiring, bars across an exit door and no access to potable water. The district has asked for these issues to be corrected.
Key Largo Volunteer Fire-Rescue Department President Frank Conklin did not return a phone message seeking comment. Conklin is also running for an open seat on the district board in November against board member George Mirabella, a proponent of breaking ties with the former department and a supporter of the lawsuit.
The department has 20 days to respond to the lawsuit.