ISLAMORADA -- Meeting last week for the first time in 2013, the Village Council gave preliminary passage to changes to the town's purchasing ordinance. Council members also voted to retain the option to pass a new wastewater assessment this summer, should the funds be needed.
The revised purchasing ordinance, which passed by a 4-0 vote, would require the village to formally document its reasons before awarding no-bid contracts or contract extensions. The change is a response to a recommendation by the Florida Auditor General's Office, which critiqued village contracting practices in a petitioner-mandated probe completed last March.
The revised ordinance also adds language explaining what justification the village must provide in order to waive competitive bidding. But those changes won't have much impact on whether contracts are competed, according to village attorney Nina Boniske.
"This does not make it easier to go to bid or harder to go to bid," she said at the Jan. 10 meeting.
Since the release of the audit, the village has awarded 12 no-bid contracts, contract amendments and contract extensions and has taken two contracts to bid.
In recent meetings, Finance Director Maria Aguilar has emphasized that auditors didn't suggest that village should bid out every contract or contract extension. But they did single out a 2008 no-bid garbage contract extension, which led to a 19 percent increase in the village's solid waste assessment the following year.
The revised purchasing ordinance addresses that issue, stating that the cost of no-bid contract extensions should be "consistent with the existing contract" when adjusted for inflation and "market considerations."
Also last week, a unanimous council gave Aguilar and Wastewater Utility Manager Greg Tindle the go-ahead to begin advertising for a notice-of-intent hearing that would keep the option of a wastewater assessment open this year.
Under state law, such notice must be passed via resolution before March 1 in order to maintain the option of adding an assessment to the following fall's tax bills.
But as Vice Mayor Ted Blackburn emphasized, the notice of intent does not mean the village has to go through with the assessment.
"This is not action," Blackburn said. "This is giving us the right to have action down the road."
A financial forecast for the wastewater project, provided by the village to state officials, includes a second assessment of $20 million. Council members, however, hope to obtain additional grant funding for the $113 million project, thereby rendering an assessment unnecessary.
Also last week, the council agreed to scrutinize the manner in which the village is enforcing its vacation rental law.
"I think it is something we need to address with the staff. We need to have enforcement 24/7," Councilman Mike Forster said.
His remark came in response to concerns voiced by Lou Quirch, who holds one of the town's vacation rental licenses, which cost $1,000 annually. Quirch complained that people without licenses are advertising their rentals openly on the Internet and getting away with it.
Village Manager Ed Koconis said he would bring back suggestions at an upcoming council meeting.
Finally, the council once again discussed making changes to the village noise ordinance, but the conversation ended with little progress.
Venetian Shores resident Cheryl Culberson renewed her complaint about loud music at the Smuggler's Cove bar, this time on New Year's Eve. Koconis and the council discussed the complications of regulating such noise while not harming well-intentioned businesses that put on outdoor music acts. Council members again asked Koconis to develop a proposal.
Mayor Ken Philipson, who spent two nights in the hospital last week after experiencing chest pains, did not attend the Jan. 10 meeting. Philipson was released the night of the meeting and has been cleared by his doctors, he said.
"I just have a few more holes in me," Philipson said the next day, referencing bandages he was wearing.