Commissioners slam staffing plan, salary increase

The board that oversees the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District approved a staffing plan this week, but not without a fight from two of the board’s five elected commissioners.

The debate preceding the Aug. 9 vote was the latest skirmish in an ongoing battle between Commissioner Andy Tobin and district General Manager Paul Christian over the latter’s leadership of the special taxing district’s staff and his transparency with commissioners.

Tobin, along with Commissioner Robby Majeska, are particularly bothered by the requested $89,726 annual salary for Rob Bulkiewicz and his title of director of administrative services. Bulkiewicz started out in the district in the IT department in 2013, making around $40,000. In October 2014, his salary was hiked to $60,000 and by the summer of 2015, he was making more than $88,000 a year and was the district’s chief information officer.

“In my opinion, the salary is disproportionate to the work and responsibility,” Tobin wrote in an Aug. 9 memo to his colleagues and the district’s legal counsel. “The salary is considerably higher than the plant manager, who has been with the district for eight years, and who has the technical expertise and management skills to operate and maintain our $40 million treatment plant and the collection manager, who has been with the district for 10 years, and has the technical expertise and management skills to maintain and repair our $90 million collection plant.”

Christian justified the rapid rise in pay to Bulkiewicz being promoted three times since signing on with the district.

In an Aug. 8 email from Tobin to fellow commissioners, with news reporters copied, Tobin said Bulkiewicz was a longtime friend of Christian whom Christian promised to help professionally if he were promoted to general manager, which he was from IT director in 2014.

Tobin is also upset that under this year’s staffing plan, an administrative assistant that now answers directly to the operations department will now be supervised by Bulkiewicz.

“Having Rob decide the priorities of an assistant that works in the operations department is ridiculous and demeaning to the operations department,” Tobin wrote in the Aug. 9 memo.

Nevertheless, Tobin and Majeska were outvoted Tuesday, with commissioners David Asdourian, Steve Gibbs and Norm Higgins voting for Christian’s staffing plan.

“Paul works with the staff 365 days a year,” Commissioner Steve Gibbs said. “He sees how things ought to be done. I don’t see the need to fix it if it’s not broken.”

Christian’s fiscal year 2016-17 staff budget is estimated to cost Key Largo ratepayers $2.9 million for payroll, benefits and taxes. This is 2.7 percent higher than the current fiscal year, but Christian said it is the smallest increase ever requested in the district’s 14-year history. It covers the addition of three new positions and a 2 percent across-the-board raise for the district’s 41 employees.

The district is expected to take in $14.5 million in the upcoming fiscal year, mostly from monthly customers’ bills, flow from the Village of Islamorada and county money. Most single-family residents pay $33.60 a month, and $5.70 per 1,000 gallons of water used.

David Goodhue: 305-440-3204