May 23, 2018

KEY LARGO — Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District commissioners last week approved $1.2 million in capital improvement projects for the main plant, discussed debt reduction and employee pension packages, and geared up for hurricane season.

Commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the $1.2 million bid proposal from Reynolds Construction for work on the central treatment plant. Commissioner Andy Tobin did not attend the meeting.

Among the projects are headworks bypass piping to replace corroded pipes, replacement of two pressurized tanks and building a bridge to the third main sequence batch reactor treatment tank.

District engineer Ed Castle negotiated nearly $55,600 in savings with the vendor, but the proposal is still higher than the district’s original estimate of $800,000, due in part to enhancements sought by the district.

Lodging, bonds and insurance, and per diem costs also drove up the price, according to Castle.

General Manager Peter Rosasco reported that $3,333,333 in state Department of Environmental Protection Stewardship Funds provided to the district must be used for capital improvement projects rather than paying down debt, despite a request by the district to use the money for such purposes.

The district’s current debt from building Key Largo’s centralized wastewater treatment system is a little more than $38 million.

A solar panel installation project to provide shade over the plant’s chlorine contact basin is to receive $91,739 of the DEP funding. Rosasco said the remaining funds could be used on other projects.

“We have options, and one of them is to bring forward projects, which is a good option,” he said. “The list that Ed [Castle] and I are working on now tallies $4.6 million, and it’s not even complete.”

The district is using $1 million this year from an interlocal agreement with the county for debt payment. Next year, the reimbursement from the county will increase to $2,125,000.

Commissioner Robby Majeska asked that the district apply DEP Stewardship money to the main plant projects.

“I’d rather spend the money from DEP on this than solar,” he said.

In preparation for the start of hurricane season on June 1, the district’s emergency response plan has been fleshed out from its original boiler-plate status, according to Rosasco.

“This is now the district’s specific plan, and it’s tailored to fit. After having managed during [Hurricane] Irma, this is a good solid plan,” he said.

A practice drill and final review will be scheduled before its implemented.Hurricanes, floods, fires, power outages and chemical disasters have been considered.

“We have a very hardened system and have a better plan in place. Communication is as important as anything,” Rosasco said.

During the meeting, commissioners approved the purchase of 16 APX 4000 Motorola handheld radios to increase day-to-day efficiencies within the maintenance and field departments and to ensure communication following a disaster. The cost for 15 radios is approximately $69,267, but one more was added for use at the main plant.

In other action, staff brought back requested research into the Florida Retirement System. The district’s annual pension plan contribution would be $219,709, or could be reduced to $159,709 if the general manager’s and the commissioners’ plans are excluded.

The district budgeted $81,528 for this year’s retirement plan, so the increased amount would need to be added to the upcoming proposed budget, according to staff.

Commissioner Sue Heim has been a proponent of bringing this program forward.

“I don’t think our present retirement system is robust enough,” she said.

Current employees would be grandfathered into the existing plan if they choose, while new employees would be required to sign with FRS.

“As a manager, having this in the tool belt helps with recruitment and retention,” Rosasco said. “It’s a good retention tool and provides stability for an individual as they reach retirement age.”

Commissioner Steve Gibbs recommended polling employees about their preference before final approval.

tjava@keysnews.com