Council learns about ’50-50’ legislative bill

Spoiler: it’s got nothing to do with a raffle

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Although Monroe County Attorney Bob Shillinger was stressing partnership, Marathon City Council members were feeling the distinct lack of it during the recent discussion on a “50-50” bill the county plans to submit to the state legislature.

The county-backed bill would formally outline responsibility on takings cases, expected when 2023 rolls around and the state will no longer grant new development rights to property owners in the Florida Keys. The county wants the state to bear 50 percent of the responsibility (judgment, interest, attorney fees and costs), and wants that in writing.

“I’m just as upset as (the Village) about the draft of this bill,” said Councilman Mark Senmartin. “I’m not so sure this is the best course of action. Why would we assume liability of 50 percent of anything, when as far as I’m concerned, this is the state’s liability, not the county or the municipalities.”

Shillinger outlined the history of several “takings” cases in the Keys, telling the council that while working in partnership with the state did not indemnify the Keys governments against risks, it is his experience that it does hold the costs down — by splitting the work between attorneys and also keeping the judgment costs low.

“I’ve been in the trenches for years, and expecting 100 percent (state responsibility) is overly ambitious and not obtainable and will not bring order to the process,” Shillinger said.

The county-backed bill seeks to formalize the judgment and attorney costs by removing some language. Right now, if a property owner prevails in a takings case it can choose to hold either the state or the local government liable. (Typically, it’s easier to satisfy a judgment with a local government than force the state to pay.)

Mayor John Bartus said he appreciated Monroe County Commissioner Michelle Coldiron and Shillinger’s explanation at the meeting.

“They are giving us lots of information to consider regarding the upcoming build-out and potential takings cases,” Bartus said. “We need to consider how local government responds, while not allowing the state to abdicate its responsibilities. Plus, it’s better when all local governments can present a united front in Tallahassee or Washington on issues that affect us all.”

Councilman Dan Zieg asked for supporting documentation and time to consider the bill’s implications. Shillinger said he was open to amending the draft of the bill

In other news:

  • With the specter of municipality responsibility in takings cases, and the dwindling number of market and affordable building rights to hand out, the council took its time to consider the application of six affordable permits for a development proposed for the corner of 99th Street and U.S.1. The owners intend to remove the two market rates for the existing structures and move them to another piece of property for a new build, or sell them on the open market for the same reason.

Councilman Dan Zieg suggested that the owners donate the two market rate allocations back to the city. Josh Mothner, representing Kay and Mario Ferruci, protested, noting the request was unprecedented in city history.

“This city has been the leader in affordable housing because we understand the need to incentivize developers. The incentive is the maintenance of those (market) rights,” Mothner said.

Senmartin had questions about which pool of allocations the affordable building rights would come out of — the 22 remaining in the city pool, or some of the 300 granted by the state that come with early hurricane evacuation stipulations for tenants.

The council agreed to grant the affordable rights out of the city stockpile, but at the last moment Councilman Steve Cook added a stipulation that the tenants must agree to early evacuation. Both the suggestion of “donation” of market rates, and the extra early evacuation rider seem to be policy decisions made on the fly.

  • The council will continue the discussion on a formal city seal at the next meeting.
  • The council approved a contract for $163,030 to re-sod the soccer fields.

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