Florida Keys Day in the Tallahassee went well

Craig Cates, Commissioner for Monroe County, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on in the county. 

How was Florida’s Keys Day in Tallahassee this year? 

Cates said, “We’re probably not going to get the funding that we have in the past by no fault of our elected officials up there, State Representative Jim Mooney and our Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez. They’re doing an incredible job and our lobbyists, it’s just the governor wants the budget smaller this year. So we work closely with them. We’ve tried to make some concessions on what we’re asking for, prioritize what we really have to have. I thought it went very well. We’ll see as they move forward, what gets funded. We were a strong group, went around, met with a lot of officials and their staff, asking for the support, letting them know why we really needed it. I think it went really well, it always does. We’ll just sit, wait and see what funding we get and then we’ll work with what ever we get.”

What about the Stewardship funding? 

Cates said, “That part looks good. That’s in the budget for sure. The one that we were concerned about is the upland facility for the mooring field on Stock Island, which is so important. Before we can put the mooring field in and operational, the upland facility has to be done too, but we’re moving forward with that and if we can get half the funding this year, another half next year to finish it, we’ll be wonderful. We’re moving forward with the one in Key West because the county will be sharing the city of Key West upland facility that they already have in place, just making some improvements to it. So that mooring field, as soon as it’s finished will be operational and the funds are already there for that.”

There is a hearing coming up for the proposed Publix site, which includes some affordable housing. 

Cates said, “We’re going to have a special meeting for this Tavernier Commercial Center Overlay District is what the official name is. It will be February the 15th in Key Largo at the at the government center there and it’ll be at 10 o’clock. You can attend by zoom or in person. We’ll be discussing and voting on moving forward with increasing the commercial size for a Publix that they’re requesting to put there and about 80 units of affordable housing in the back of it. The concerns are with the community is the traffic increases, as we all well know, there’s a lot of traffic in the Keys that affects everyone, especially up in that area. We’ll listen to the residents and we’ll try to make a decision what’s the best balance for the community and the needs.”

Hurricane modeling will be a big topic of discussion in the coming months. 

Cates said, “We decided to postpone moving forward with the charter county. The Commission decided at the last meeting that our priority is going to be this evacuation model and these ROGOs and we want to devote all our time and energy and staff to make sure the residents get all the information they need to make an informed decision whether we take it to referendum or not. We need to represent the citizens and get their input before we make a decision and ask the state, whether for more ROGOS, how it’s going to affect our possible responsibility for takings cases and the impact it’s going to be on the community. We know all of them are going to be important, and so I was pleased that the Commission decided to dedicate all our energy towards that and making sure we make the right decision this year.”

Some TDC funding could be used for affordable housing. 

Cates said, “A bill that needs to be legislative changes, we’re asking to use that money, put it in the account, to be spent on affordable housing only in the Keys. We already went through committee in the legislature, and that’s moved forward. I heard they were being read in the Senate yesterday, and I didn’t hear the results yet. If it passes in committee, then we’ll move forward and hopefully get right to the floor, so it can be voted on. We’re asking special exemption to be allowed to do this one time and since we’re an area of critical concern, and this is excess funds that have way above what normally was collected, so it doesn’t affect the budget at all. We’ve put in place minimum and maximum reserves for administration and advertising in case of a storm or any other impact, like COVID. This is over and above that $25 million that we asked to be put forward to subsidize, purchase property or something for affordable housing. We don’t have the exact plans for that yet until we know whether we’re going to get the money. That legislation it’s got to be used for affordable housing, we know the money will be used for that and we’ll just try to prioritize what project or purchase would benefit the county.”

Will anything happen with the cost of housing insurance?

Cates said, “I hear there’s a lot of talk, different ideas, but nothing substantial. Just a personal opinion that trying to see what the changes that were made in the past, last year if they’re going to have an impact. So there’s a lot of moving parts here. But at the end of the day, we’re suffering, paying a lot of money for insurance here. It is very difficult on the residents, the homeowners, the commercial property, they have to pass that on to their renters, and just it continues to go up. So we hope that someday we’ll get relief.”