For a number of years, TLC Nurseries owner Claude Halioua has proffered a number of trees to the City of Marathon for planting along US 1, but maintenance costs and the installation sites have remained a sticking point.

But after Vice Mayor Dick Ramsay questioned the costs for initial installation and watering of the high-maintenance coconut palms, the saga appeared to conclude at Tuesday night’s regularly scheduled council meeting.

In a memo to the council, City Manager Roger Hernstadt estimated time commitment for maintenance – one day per month for two Public Works employees plus the cost of materials and solid waste fees for any palm fronds – to total an estimated annual expense of $9,500.

Ramsay further referenced the City of Key West’s current efforts to replace existing coconut palms at the island’s main entrance.

“With coconut palms, maintenance on these things is short of horrendous,” Ramsay noted. The proposed site is on the gulfside of Coco Plum Drive and the highway.  He added that the greenery provided by existing mangroves at the site prompted him to question whether or not the council should consider installing the trees further west into Marathon.

“It will beautify and give a more tropical appearance,” said councilman Pete Worthington. “Is it the best location? Probably not. But any beautification is good.”

Mayor Ginger Snead asked whether the $9,500 was available in the current budget, to which Public Works Manager Carlos Solis said “No,” saying the money would have to be appropriated from somewhere else in the current budget.

Halioua contended that maintenance on the trees would be nominal after the first year or two, and installation and watering could likely be completed for $5,000-$6,000.

“I’ve been waiting for many years, and I want to plant them before I lose them,” he insisted. “You supply a little good will, and maybe we can change the image of Marathon, sir!”

Finance Director Peter Rosasco said at the council’s direction, he could possibly qualify $9,500 from the general fund or monies earmarked for street maintenance.

“Capital infrastructure would include planting at cost,” he elaborated. “Maintenance is not something that can be paid out of capital infrastructure.”

Hernstadt’s memo also included a reminder that the city’s Land Development Regulations require 75 percent native plantings, and all of the city’s park and wastewater projects have abided by that standard. Halioua agreed to increase the percentage of native trees in his proposal to 40 percent.

In other business:
• Ramsay brought forth a proposed partnership study with the Florida Keys Electric Co-op and the city to install lighting along the Aviation Blvd. bike path. Former city manager and FKEC board member Mike Puto said the utility would like to conduct a feasibility study on a couple different types of light fixtures with input from residents in that area. He estimated a preliminary cost for the lights to be at about $12-14 per month and confirmed that the study would be conducted at no cost to the city.

Snead prodded Puto to simultaneously revisit the possibility of moving utility lights further from the bike path – a project she said the city had been quoted a very high price in the past.

• The city granted a temporary Certificate of Occupancy to the Keys Fisheries for their 800-foot expansion of the elevated bar above the restaurant dining area. Planning Director George Garrett said both he and the building inspector had examined the expansion and recommended issuing the temporary CO so they could open earlier than the planned date of March 8.

• Council approved a contract with Keys Grafix and Sign of the Florida Keys, LLC for $30,878 for new city entrance signs and establishing individual facility signs pricing for future facility signs.

“You have individually and collectively expressed concern with how the signs look,” Hernstadt told the council, further clarifying that there was “wiggle room” with the conceptual sign design over which many in the meeting expressed disappointment.

Keys Grafix co-owner Jeff Pinkus promised the company would work with the city in any way necessary to draft a design on which the entire council can agree.

“Your sign is the face of your business, and your business is the city,” Pinkus offered.

Worthington cautioned that the proposed entrance signs would be the third set the city had installed in 11 years of existence.

“I’m on board with changing, but I’m not on board with how fast this is moving,” he cautioned.

Councilman Mike Cinque motioned to direct staff to work with Pinkus on the conceptual design and moving forward, but Ramsay vocally opposed the motion.

“I’m sick and tired of how many signs we keep putting up and taking down just because we don’t like them,” Ramsay expressed. “I believe there are alternatives.”

• Solis reported that the council’s proposed test plan to temporarily extinguish every other industrial street light along U.S. 1 had not yet been implemented because a circuit shortage had extinguished all the lamps between 41st Street to Aviation Blvd.

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