Out of respect for a former vice mayor, Pete Worthington sponsored an item for discussion on Tuesday night’s agenda that raised quite a stir.
Marjie Mearns brought a wave of supporters to the Monroe County Government Center to question the location of the area 3 wastewater plant location adjacent to the community park. Mearns requested a 90-day period to bring together a task force and explore alternative locations for the treatment facility.
“Yes, it’s going to take time and money, but once it’s there, it’s there forever,” Mearns pleaded.
Former County Commissioner David Rice recounted a discussion in which a friend in Key West chided that he was going to have a bumper sticker made that reads “Marathon: A Great Place to Stop for Gas.”
The room came to a halt.
“I don’t think this is what we want for our city,” Rice said firmly, adding he would personally pony up additional monies necessary for reengineering costs and a second analysis.
But Karen Farley-Wilkinson, who keeps a regular check on the city council and their actions, defended their decision. “Don’t think this council didn’t agonize over this decision,” she told the crowd.
Councilwoman Ginger Snead added that even when the council approved the location, she was not happy about the location.
“We’ve been talking about this for 18 months, and I spoke against it when we voted on it,” Snead said.
She then mentioned a piece of property available across U.S. 1 that had been brought up in preliminary discussions, explaining that it was not only not big enough, but adjacent to low-income housing.
“Would possible relocation jeopardize our grant money, and how much would it cost to relocate it,” Snead asked finance director Peter Rosasco.
He estimated at least a half a million dollar outlay to relocate the treatment plant and added, “I know everyone’s unhappy about this, but there would be a large fiscal impact at this point.”
In order to clear any confusion in the room between grant money and federal stimulus money used on the sewer and wastewater project, City Manager Clyde Burnett said of the $25 million in stimulus money sent down to Monroe County from Washington a few months back, Marathon must spend their $6.25 million by March 2010.
“I may be speaking out of turn here,” Burnett said, “but we think other entities [Key West, Islamorada and Key Largo] aren’t going to spend their money by the deadline. We think we may be able to go after their portion of that $25 million.”
Councilman Dick Ramsay said he had personally painstakingly examined the issue and explored alternative locations for the plant.
“This was a major issue for me, and I can promise there’s nobody here who’s thrilled with this location,” Ramsay lamented.
“I believe in my heart this council did as much due diligence as possible,” said Vice Mayor Don Vasil, adding that the council even had some citizen groups involved in looking for different sites. “They told me, ‘Don, we had no choice’.”
Worthington echoed other council and staff’s comments that though he understood community members’ resentment of the location, on which fencing and shrubbery has already been installed, he concluded, “I just wish we’d have had this interest a year ago.”
In other business:
Lynda Berrigan of the Coco Plum neighborhood requested one more review of the bike path construction update. Representatives from the city’s engineering firm detailed preliminary plans which will need final approval from DOT.
Joe Brown of Intratstate Construction appeared before the council to explain why a handful of local subcontractors working on the city wide sewer project were not receiving timely compensation. Brown explained the “snafu” resulted when the company’s owner was out of town, and Brown did not have approval to disperse payments before his return. “I apologize for the inconvenience and we will do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Brown explained.
In response to what he called “a more than unusual amount of calls from concerned citizens” in the Coco Plum Drive neighborhood concerning cost updates and when charges will be applied, Vasil, Burnett and Rosasco updated residents and the council on the status of actual cost and when these residents will be required to hook up to the system. Burnett provided updates on the status of other area plant construction and completion throughout the city.
Snead sponsored a discussion regarding the vacation rental citation ordinance currently in existence within the city’s code. Resident Mark Freedman and Planning Commission Vice Chairwoman Morgan Hill raised concerns over current enforcement. Freedman said he agreed that vacation rentals serve as an important facet of the local economy, the nine-year old ordinance still makes it very challenging to properly cite violators. Hill, also a real estate broker and manager of 300 rental properties, said she needed greater ground on which to stand to cite a violator. “I’ve got a $500 security deposit,” Hill said. “You think if I tell them I’ll keep their money if they don’t come into compliance, they won’t do it real fast?”
The council approved on the first reading three ordinances regarding the tethering of dogs and a leasing program for sewer credits. The leasing program will be established for businesses like Donna Farmer’s Maytag Coin Laundry that “meet certain public good criteria”. These ordinances will become law following a second reading at the next regularly scheduled meeting. An ordinance revamped after previous discussions concerning the storage of horses and stables within city limits unanimously failed.
Snead moved that an ordinance regarding the proposed Building Permit Completion Deposit be continued until a later meeting.
Fire Chief William Wagner, III, requested a five percent increase in the city’s medical emergency fee schedule “in order to be brought more in line with rates already in place countywide.”
Walter McDowell, center, accepted a commemorative plaque for his years of service as the Public Works Director from the Marathon City Council Tuesday evening. Pictured (l-r) are Pete Worthington, Mayor Mike Cinque, Ginger Snead, Vice Mayor Don Vasil and Dick Ramsay. “I’ve already retired once from DOT, and I hope this time it’s for good,” McDowell laughed.