KEY LARGO -- The county administrator has backed off his demand that the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District pitch in for a lobbyist to secure state grant money to pay for sewer construction and debt.
For months Florida Keys' municipalities and special districts have worked with the county to hammer out an agreement to split up a hoped for $50 million from the state, which is the second installment of a $200 million grant.
Under the agreement's terms, Key Largo and Marathon are expected to receive $20 million apiece, with $4 million going to Key West.
Negotiations among the municipalities began to suffer around Christmas when the county added payment for a "target" lobbyist to the agreement, which would have required Key Largo to pay $78,000 over three years for a service they say they are already getting through their own lobbyist. Under the original county proposal, the Key Largo board would forfeit the $20 million grant money if it did not pay its share of the lobbyist. The board was taken aback by that language.
County officials have recently backed off the language to move the rest of the agreement along.
"When I left [a recent meeting with the Key Largo Wastewater Board], I was under a different understanding," County Administrator Roman Gastesi said.
Speaking at the wastewater meeting last week, Gastesi said the agreement could be changed so the district does not pay for the lobbyist until it sees the money in the legislative budget.
Gastesi told the Free Press that other municipalities said they were on board with helping pay for the lobbyist, despite it no longer being in the terms of the agreement.
"I hope we can still get some help paying for the lobbyist," Gastesi said.
Part of the reason the language was changed was to prevent the agreement from stalling before the County Commission, which is expected to vote on it this week, Gastesi said.
Gastesi said he visited Tallahassee last week with state Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, who explained she needed the agreement soon and couldn't wait until the commission meets again in March.