Budget season is underway in Marathon

George Garrett, City Manager in Marathon, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on in the city.

Budget season is here and the first discussion will be on July 23.

Garrett said, “I believe that our first budget session will be the 23rd and a combination of a regular meeting and separately a special call meeting for the budget. Nothing crazy to reveal right now. But probably two points I would make. Our finance director has held the budget at last year’s millage rate and we’ve been doing a wage study here over the past few months and, again, nothing really crazy there. There’s some adjustments that I think we’ll have to make, but nothing large in terms of the budget. It’s going to give us both vertical and horizontal clarity on what our budget processes over the next years. So I think it’s very beneficial long term and it helps us a little bit short term, but it has relatively minimal impact, fortunately, on the budget, so we can hold our millage where we were last year. Of course, just so everybody doesn’t think, because we always get into this conversation once a year, holding your millage where it was last year doesn’t mean you’re not going to pay more taxes, because of course, your property values go up. It’s a combination of multiplying the millage by your property values and so if your property values have gone up, guess what? Holding your millage the same is going to cost you a little bit more money, depending on what percentage increase you have in your value. Last year, fortunately, we had we actually met roll back so it didn’t cost anybody anything from the city of Marathon any more than previous years. So that was good.”

Sombrero Boulevard flooding issues have continued and there will be plans moving forward to help.

Garrett said, “This has gotten to be a little bit of a political thing, like I guess these issues are else everywhere. The real issue is that because it could become political, something that’s unique, I think, in the city of Marathon, that is definitely our worst flooding area has gotten to be bigger, I think than it maybe should have been. That said, if I were living back in the Sombrero Boulevard, I wouldn’t want to go through that puddle when we have a good rain. I have to say, as city manager, I think about these things. I wake up with them. We do have a temporary pump in place that we literally turn on the minute it starts to accumulate rain there and that has been very successful so far. At that point, we’re probably going to get an even bigger pump so that it can move faster. We should be getting 90% plans here in the next week or so for the improvements there that we need. Those will then move forward to a bid phase and then a project selection or a contractor selection phase and then we hope to be under construction on some of the improvements by sometime this fall. We get the bids out. We review the bids, we can get a contract probably September timeframe. We’re hoping to be under construction in October, maybe as late as November. We should be in good shape at that point. As far as the golf course goes, I don’t think there’s any question of what the facts that there’s a berm now along Sombrero Boulevard has exacerbated the problem that has existed in exactly this area for years. We’ve talked to people that have lived back there for many years, and we have actually staff that live back there, and they’ll tell you, oh, yeah, we’ve always had flooding problems. They’re exacerbated by the fact that the flooding that was occurring, usually ran onto the golf course and just disappeared out of sight out of mind. Well, now we have a berm up permitted by both the city and the Water Management District and it stops that flow on the golf course. It shouldn’t be happening anyway. But it is. And that’s the reason we’re in the midst, of this fix. The golf course is moving ahead. Right now, they’re kind of in a hold phase, because they’ve had to modify the location of some of their infrastructure, and we’re doing some cursory review of that. We don’t see any problems with it, but we have put them at least on a pause, if you will, while we review their modifications, and then move forward with them, but the overall project essentially stays the same. The hotel has always been approved for and I think they’ve got 15 units that they’re putting out there.”

There have been some issues with the residents.

Garrett said, “I think the real issue with it is not so much the resort itself as what the golf course may look like at the end. That seems to be the biggest potential impact to how the developers are working on this, but we’ll work through that. At this point, the golf course, as it was originally proposed is still there. There are some modifications proposed to the fairways, but the number and placement roughly of the fairways is essentially what was approved back in 2014.”

The deep well issues are also moving forward.

Garrett said, “The bottom line is we’re moving forward with all that. The design work is happening. The aqueduct has been talking to us, we’ve been talking to their engineers. We’re working out details right now. We’ll see how that goes. But we are moving full speed ahead on it.”

Is there a time constraint?

Garrett said, “There is, I mean, we have a five year time period, which is why we can’t afford six months to a year waiting for a permit to happen if we have to get through the Water Management District and the corps. So that’s really becomes the issue. There’s some bigger things out there beyond this, which has nothing to do with whether we’re going to put in a deep well or not. But there’s some interim things that are becoming very interesting. It’s worth having this conversation, like as part of our entire discussion for a morning, because there’s some really interesting legal issues now, about the shallow well, issue. It comes down to a test that was made in a Maui, Hawaii federal lawsuit that made it to the Supreme Court, and the test ends up being one of where is putting our effluent or their effluent the case in Maui down a shallow well, the functional equivalent, and that’s put that in quotes, a direct discharge to open water. In the Maui case, they determined that it was potentially and they were forced to go back through, but that lawsuit settled, and it’s become the law, effectively, and that impacted us when FOLKS sued us. We were meeting the law as far as everybody was concerned, up until the point that that Maui case was resolved. Then, of course, we were sued under the terms of the Maui case and we agreed to settle. We also agreed mutually that we hadn’t just admitted to anything, because frankly, we still believe and continue to believe and are proving it further, in some respects, that we are not the functional equivalent. But we had a substantial risk of losing a federal case in court and then having to do it anyway. So the city council made a decision, which was a decision simply to move on and in the long run a deep well is arguably a better solution, simply because it really does put effluent out of sight and out of mind. Whereas the shallow does potentially have some impact, although not the functional equivalent of a direct discharge. So the issues are going to be interesting, though, in terms of how the DEP, which is state agency that deals with wells and wastewater, how they deal with the issue with many of the other shallow wells that are in the Keys, and there’s another eight to 10, shallow wells in the Keys and actually probably more than that, but eight to 10 big users. Then even more interesting, is there are about 500 shallow wells in the state of Florida, all of which would be potentially impacted by this Maui decision.”

The 4th of July was tons of fun.

Garrett said, “The event itself was fantastic. We had a great parade in the morning. We had great fireworks and of course, we’re benefited by the fact that we have a bunch of experts – and they are – that don’t cost us anything to put on the display. They’re local folks, which gets us probably a double or triple the value for what we pay for the fireworks. Then the other thing is we’re coming up on this weekend being the single day of the mini season. Of course, we’re gearing up to discuss how we’re going to manage it like we do every year. We’re just gearing up for that and asking everybody to be prepared for it. Frankly, concerning some of the accidents that happened over the last weekend, just asking people to be very cautious when they’re out on the water, have their flags up, their dive flags available and visible. Just be careful out there. I mean, there’s a lot of people in the water. Everybody’s hungry to go get lobster and not necessarily always paying attention and not everybody’s familiar with the waters. So just be very cautious. Please be very cautious and courteous about what it is you’re doing when you’re having fun getting lobster.”