KEY LARGO -- The Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District is taking another major step toward becoming a full-functioning utility in the new fiscal year.
For years, the sewer district operated as a construction company, with many full-time staff positions based on the needs of designing, constructing and installing pipelines, vacuum stations and other wastewater treatment infrastructure.
"We've moved these people into places like billing and assessments," said Paul Christian, the district's chief information officer.
In the 2013-14 fiscal year's $23.1 million operating budget, the payroll allocation for construction has decreased by about $220,000, not including employee-related expenses like payroll taxes, health insurance and retirement premiums.
"This budget shows we're switching over from a construction company to a utility," Peter Rosasco, the district's accountant, said during last week's Key Largo Wastewater Board meeting.
The budget also decreases supplies and tools for plant operations by $100,000 and moves that money into a contingency account, which previously held $50,000.
Board members wanted assurances that if a hurricane struck the Upper Keys that the district would be budgeted appropriately.
"It wouldn't even reflect here," Rosasco said, indicating that money would come from reserves and insurance the district has purchased.
Part of the district's proposed $23 million budget includes a $400,000 increase in chemical purchases to help address odor complaints.
Earlier this year, the Sexton Cove neighborhood complained of odor problems at a vacuum station. A few years ago, the district also made changes at its treatment plant to address odor problems there.
One change that could result from the transition into a utility is board member's compensation.
Currently, the board holds three public meetings each month, not counting any staff meetings that the board members attend. They are paid for each public meeting they attend, up to three monthly.
Now that construction is mostly complete, Chairman Robby Majeska said he wants the board to move to two meetings per month, which would effectively cut the pay of the board members by a third.
The board was expected to review the budget again when it met Tuesday, Aug. 13.
Also at that meeting, the district's legal counsel, Ray Giglio, was to give a presentation on the rights of public speakers at district meetings. Majeska said he wants to reorganize how often and on which topics the public can speak.
Results of that meeting were not available at press time.