Claude Halioua’s trees will not be going in the ground anytime soon.
The owner of TLC Nurseries in Marathon has been after the council for years to accept his coconut palms and gumbo-limbo trees to plant and help beautify the city, but city staff apparently underestimated the original installation and annual maintenance costs.
City Manager Roger Hernstadt told city council members during their regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday evening they believed the proffer of the trees included initial installation. During the council’s Jan. 25 meeting, Hernstadt estimated an approximate annual cost of $9,500 for maintenance. When council prodded staff for estimates on installation, Hernstadt confirmed an additional cost would be associated with the initial planting.
Those costs came back this week and were estimated at approximately $19,000.
Vice Mayor Dick Ramsay said during the last meeting, the council weighed the pros and cons of accepting the trees, and they were under the impression Halioua would foot the bill for installation.
“We’re starting to look at some reasonably large numbers,” Ramsay contended. “We just mentioned quarterly budget reviews. We’ve got to start getting more careful with our dollars.”
Mayor Ginger Snead said the tree proffer was reminiscent of an offer a few years ago for a handball court.
“Nothing is free,” she affirmed. “We’re talking about nearly $30,000 now between putting in the trees, watering and trimming. We can’t spend that kind of money for 150 trees.”
The council them motioned to inform Halioua that they would be kindly declining his offer.
Councilman Mike Cinque then announced that Peter Chapman, head of the Community Image Advisory Board, has reported the median fronting the Marathon airport would soon have trees planted in it.
“Pete told me this would get done before his kid goes to college,” Cinque laughed.
In other business:
• Ramsay opened the meeting by requesting a letter be sent to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to explore the possibility of installing restroom facilities and a water fountain at the east end of the Old 7 Mile Bridge or “Sunset Park.”
The area sees high foot traffic with walkers, runners and bikers utilizing the bridge for exercise, and the waterfront area is popular among shore fishermen and women. The lack of facilities, Ramsay cautioned, leaves several visitors no other option than to use nature’s restroom.
Hernstadt told the council that that state had discussed the installation of restroom facilities at the park in the past, but maintenance responsibilities, and associated costs, would fall on the city.
“Could we ask them to build it and maintain it?” Snead questioned, to which Cinque promptly responded, “If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.”
Councilman Pete Worthington added a request for a couple of low-impact lights to be installed in the park for safety.
“I think they said they’d do it pro-bono,” he added.
• The council again discussed fencing blights surrounding a growing number of the city’s abandoned and derelict properties.
Snead suggested that instead of enforcing fencing regulations, either temporary, permanent or demolition-style chain link fences, “Let’s attack what the real problem is – we’d rather look at something green and flowery. We keep saying Islamorada looks so much better than us, but it’s because they have greenery in front of their fences. Who knows what’s behind them and who cares? Why don’t we start asking them to plant native vegetation until their projects start to move forward?”
Cinque added that unless the city is going to enforce regulations already on the books, they should be scratched.
“Let’s bring a problem forward and force them to do something,” he suggested.
Worthington chimed in, “If you own a million dollar property, why not hire somebody to run a bush hog through there so the neighbors don’t have to deal with it?”
• Council debated whether or not to send utility operational contracts that will be up for renewal in the fall.
At the staff’s suggestion, the majority of council felt that until all the wastewater treatment plants are up and running, they should continue to be operated by U.S. Water. But Worthington said he thought all the contracts should be sent out to bid since local companies had expressed an interest in operating parts of the system.
Cinque contended that the mayor had asked staff to give the council as much lead time as possible to make a decision on the contracts.
“When we bring them forward to make a decision in a timely manner, you get upset about it,” Cinque told Worthington, and he promptly withdrew a motion to send one of three contracts out to bid and leave the other two alone.
“We can bring it back in two weeks so we’re not willy nillying about it,” Cinque fired.
• Council urged Marie Schmitt, a resident on 92nd Street in Marathon, to sit down with her neighbors to come together on language in a release of liability to the city for alleviating flooding problems on their street.
Of eight certified letters sent to residents on the street, only two had been returned, according to Hernstadt. Schmitt’s letter was returned with part of the language scratched out.
“It’s totally reasonable for the city to ask these residents to release the city if they raise they road [to alleviate flooding] and any affect that may have,” Ramsay offered. “They can’t expect the city to move forward without all the signatures.”
The letters basically release the city of liability, Hernstadt explained, that raising the road would only send the floodwaters onto homeowners’ properties.
Attorney John Herin told the council that staff was not married to the language, which is in fact the same used in a release for stormwater issues on Grassy Key.
“That has worked well, but in this particular situation, we’re getting a lot of resistance,” Herin elaborated.