MARATHON -- Unhappy with the failure of its Tallahassee lobbying group to bring home the pork, the Marathon City Council last week directed staff to pursue arrangements with two new firms that promise to be more aggressive in securing state funds for the city.
City leaders have been critical of Floridian Partners after the state Legislature decided this spring not to send $50 million in grant money to the Florida Keys, $20 million of which was to be used by Marathon to pay down sewer construction debt. The city pays Floridian $5,000 a month.
According to City Manager Roger Hernstadt, Marathon received several letters of interest from "some of the most qualified [lobbying] firms in the state." Typically, those firms prefer to work with cities that have a bigger budget, he said.
"We are in a very envious position because we have several top-notch firms" interested in representing the city, Hernstadt told the council during last week's meeting.
Hernstadt said he hoped the council would be prepared to discuss the qualifications of each firm and vote on which one they'd like to hire.
But Vice Mayor Richard Keating suggested the city hire two firms that could "reach across the aisle and get the money we've been trying so hard to get".
Councilwoman Ginger Snead said she had the very same idea. Apparently, so did the rest of the council members. The coincidences didn't end there.
Every council member had, over the course of their individual review and reflection, selected the same two firms as the best candidates: Ronald L. Book and Ballard Partners.
"There's $20 million up for grabs," Councilman Chris Bull said. "It's time for a full-court press."
Councilman Dick Ramsay said he fully supports hiring two firms "almost at whatever cost." He said he wants first-class representation because "there's a lot of money at stake."
Members voted unanimously to pursue an arrangement with both firms.
Regarding the Florida Keys Marathon Airport, Ramsay reported receipt of a letter from the Federal Aviation Administration which had initially recommended that a larger distance be created between the center line of the runway and the center line of the taxiway.
But meeting the intent of that recommendation would have required either moving the runway to the north or moving the taxiway to the south. Both solutions would have had negative impacts on the surrounding hardwood hammock and noise barriers. Monroe County's and the city's decision was to do nothing.
In an unusual change in position, the FAA is now in agreement and supports the decision to leave the runway and taxiway as they are.
The council directed Hernstadt to send a letter to the county prior to the commission's Wednesday, Aug. 21, meeting reaffirming the city's desire for the runway and taxiway to remain in their current configuration.
Meanwhile, the city is moving forward with plans to sell its property at 104th Street, which is currently zoned as residential high. Planning Director George Garrett told the council he has received a recommendation from a real estate professional that, if pursued, could increase the property's marketability.
After discussion, the city decided to rezone a portion of the property to provide a mixed-use opportunity for interested buyers.
Also during the meeting, Thad Lovell, a resident of Avenue K, addressed the council, indicating he has made the same request to no avail for eight years running.
Lovell questioned the city's decision to bill residents of the public road for paving, road sign installation and road striping when the city has done the same work on private roads at no cost to residents.
He cited the work done with city funds at Fisherman's Point, a private road that's greater in length than Avenue K.
Lovell asked the council to suspend the assessments and refund money to residents of Avenue K.
The decision to establish Avenue K as a special taxing district to pay for repairs was made in 2008, when both Mayor Mike Cinque and Bull were council members.
"It was the right thing to do," said Bull, who added he doesn't agree with all of the decisions made by subsequent councils regarding the pavement of private roads.
Cinque encouraged the council to "let the past go" and expressed his desire to see the assessments suspended indefinitely.
The council was in full agreement. Staff was directed to bring back a resolution to discontinue billing residents for the work being done on Avenue K. Whether or not the city will refund any money was not addressed.
In other action, the council heard but was not yet ready to make a commitment to a proposal to build a community garden outside the new City Hall.