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Florida RV Park Sewer Dispute Up to the Judge

December 9, 2009 by   - () Leave a Comment

Resolution in the sewer-fees case between the city of Marathon, Fla., and the Keys RV mobile home park will likely come from a judge, not a settlement between the two parties.

That’s according to Marathon City Council members who say the city’s explored several settlement options with the park’s residents. The residents sued in October 2008 alleging discrimination by the city in assessing them nearly $1 million combined to connect to Marathon’s under-construction sewer system, according to keysnet.com.

That’s $4,700 for each of the 200 owners and is what the owners of single-family homes pay to connect to the system.

“The council has sat in previous executive sessions and we have gone over all kinds of options. Concessions were offered the council felt were fair for Keys RV and the overall community,” Councilman Dick Ramsay said. “I think at this stage of the game, everyone is open to discussion, but unless Keys RV would come back considering some items they’ve already been offered, it’s going to have to continue in the courts.”

Ramsay declined to elaborate on those concessions.

On Dec. 1, acting Circuit Court Judge Ruth Becker delayed ruling on a city motion to have the case dismissed, saying she’d been unable to review a recently filed motion by Keys RV attorney David Paul Horan. Becker may call for more oral arguments, or rule based on the most recent motions.

The case boils down to Keys RV’s contention that assessing each of its owners the same as any other equivalent dwelling unit in the city is based solely on form of ownership.

The 200 property owners purchased the park in 2004, but doing so required them to form a condominium association to obtain bank loans.

That set Keys RV owners up to be charged individual EDUs, like many other condominium associations in Marathon. But Keys RV maintains it should be assessed based on historical water flow, like other mobile home and RV parks. That’s determined by averaging a property’s highest average three-month usage over a three-year period.

“We did the assessment across the board as fairly as we could. The council made the decision and we’ve been assured the way we did it was legal. We can’t change it without changing it for everyone. We have to just wait and see what the judge decides,” Vice Mayor Mike Cinque said.

Cinque pointed out, as did city attorneys in front of Becker, that future development was considered when figuring sewer assessments. As individual property owners, Keys RV property owners hold rights not available to other mobile home park owners — including the right to sell, lease or bequeath the property.

“We had to build that system to capacity,” Cinque said.

Councilman Pete Worthington agreed, saying the city even assesses vacant lots one EDU. The only criterion is a property hold an individual real estate number.

“Our methodology says we assess every [real estate] number that has the potential of generating sewage in the future. I think we’ll just have to see how it goes with Judge Becker and her decision,” he said.

Another one of Horan’s main arguments Dec. 1 was that it will cost Keys RV owners roughly $600,000 to install sewer pipes on the property. He said that’s unfair when the city has installed sewer pipes — free of charge less EDU charges to homeowners — on Stirrup Key and other private roads.

According to Ramsay, the city spent $1.6 million installing sewer lines on Stirrup Key, an affluent neighborhood of 43 homes behind Florida Keys Marathon Airport. But with just 43 homes, it generated roughly $250,000 in sewer assessments.

City Attorney John Herin says that decision is based on a January 2008 council vote “to go ahead and place infrastructure on platted roads, roads of records.”

Cinque said that’s why park owners — pending Becker’s ruling — must pay to install pipes on top of assessments.

“The council didn’t choose to look at the possibility of going into mobile homes. Keys RV is not a legally platted subdivision. There’s several parks like that,” he said. “That’s the reason they’re a condo, because they couldn’t subdivide. You can’t legally plat in there; they don’t have the acreage.”

If Becker rules in favor of Keys RV, Ramsay said the city will likely appeal.

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