Monroe County commissioners on Wednesday rejected proposed settlements with No Name Key residents who want commercial power on the island, deciding to let the courts decide.
By settling, the county would have begun working on changing land-use rules to allow utilities on the small island, now "discouraged." The county also would not have had to pay legal fees.
No Name Key now relies on solar and generator power.
The County Commission did not rule out settling entirely, and instructed county staff to research the impacts commercial power might have on wildlife, conservation issues and more. If research found impacts negligible, the county might reconsider the offer.
Newest Commissioner Danny Kolhage said delaying the decision was unfair to the group of homeowners who spent $650,000 on the infrastructure.
Keys Energy Services already installed 62 utility poles and ran wires along streets and bridges on No Name in the summer. But the homes cannot connect because the county will not issue the necessary building permits until the lawsuits are resolved.
Kolhage chastised Keys Energy for jumping the gun before the legal issues were decided. But he did not seem opposed to commercial power, arguing that a U.S. Fish and Wildlife letter two years ago opened the door for it. The federal agency said installing poles and other infrastructure would not harm wildlife, if done correctly.
"It changed the whole ball game," Kolhage said.
The County Commission heard passionate arguments for and against power for more than an hour in the closed-session hearing with attorneys.
County Mayor George Neugent said a majority of the commission wants the issue resolved. It's been debated for decades.
The issue is already in litigation, with Circuit Court Judge David Audlin ruling that the state Public Service Commission (PSC) should decide, not the courts. And PSC itself has stated it wants to decide the matter.
But No Name Key homeowners opposed to bringing in power appealed Audlin's ruling, saying the courts should decide.
Lawyers for both sides will debate the jurisdictional issue next month in the state's 3rd Court of Appeal.
Separately, the county filed another lawsuit asking Audlin to rule on extending commercial power. Audlin has not yet ruled on that suit.
An overwhelmingly majority of the 42 homeowners on No Name Key want commercial power, according to the No Name Key Property Owners Association.
• Also on Wednesday, the commission voted 4-1 to give Commissioner Heather Carruthers' administrative aide a 19 percent raise. Carruthers' aide, Carol Schreck, was earning $43,692 a year plus health and retirement benefits. She will now make $52,000 a year plus benefits.
The County Commission had voted earlier this year not to give out raises in the 2012-13 fiscal year, which started Oct. 1.
Mayor Neugent was the lone vote against Schreck's raise, questioning the timing, in the middle of the fiscal year and when other county employees aren't getting raises.
Neugent also questioned why the commission approved contracts for the aides to Commissioners Danny Kolhage and Sylvia Murphy without discussion.
Kolhage, previously county clerk of court, brought over Isabel DeSantis, a 30-year county employee. She took a $3,000 pay cut for the new job. Her new salary, $62,000 a year, is still 2.6 percent above the top of the position's pay scale, which is $60,433.
The administrative aide for Kolhage's predecessor earned $43,762, records show.
Murphy's new aide, Pam Johnson, will earn $58,000. Her previous aide earned $55,500, records show. Johnson will be performing two functions and will be paid for that double duty, Murphy said. Johnson also will be working for the Upper Keys Trauma District.