KEY LARGO -- The Key Largo Fire-EMS District on Monday, March 25, will discuss the future of its contract with the local fire department.
Tavernier attorney Russ Yagel has reached out to some of the district's commissioners to discuss their qualms with the department and Fire Chief Sergio Garcia prior to the meeting.
Yagel did not return phone calls from the Free Press seeking comment about his efforts.
Board member Bob Thomas, who favors canceling the contract, told the Free Press he plans to meet with Yagel this week.
Yagel was recently hired by the fire department at the urging of Garcia to supplement pro bono attorney Andy Tobin. Yagel will be paid per assignment from the department's funds, not taxpayer money.
The department raises money through boot drives and other fundraisers, in addition to being paid by the district with tax revenue for providing fire service to Key Largo.
A Free Press public records request submitted March 11 asking for the fire department's communication with Yagel as well as his contract was not responded to by press time.
The district board and Garcia have had strained relations ever since a district audit in 2009 questioned the department's accounting and management practices. Garcia and the fire department have rejected those findings.
In preparation for the March 25 meeting, which was originally to be held March 11 before the district opted to reschedule, District Clerk Vicky Fay has assembled previous audits of the fire department.
In January Garcia sent an email to Gov. Rick Scott, which questioned elected members' lack of fire service experience and accused them of conflicts of interest. The email was sent the same day the district responded to Scott's statewide survey of all fire districts. Garcia declined to offer specifics about his concerns when questioned by the newspaper.
According to the district's contract with the department, both entities would have to undergo mediation before any split becomes official.
If that occurs, the district is left with a few options, including hiring professional Monroe County firefighters, creating a new nonprofit volunteer department or asking its emergency medical service contractor, the Key Largo Ambulance Corps, to take over fire service responsibilities, according to Thomas, who says he has consulted with counsel about the matter.
Contracting with the county is a less favorable alternative as it could require an increase in property taxes to pay for a full-time crew. The Key Largo department currently has a mix of paid personnel and volunteers.
In a meeting last week, the Ambulance Corps' board of directors said they would await the district's direction. The board did say, contingent on the results of the district's meeting, it may schedule a special meeting next week.
Dirk Smits, attorney for the fire district, said he has consulted with commissioners individually and is reviewing the contract in preparation for the meeting.