Craig Cates, Mayor of Monroe County and Commissioner of District 1, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been happening in the county.
With the Village Council in Islamorada voting to not renew the contract for the village manger this year, Monroe County is stepping in.
Bryan Cook, Employment Services Director for the county, will be the short term manager for Islamorada. The Village Council did vote to approve that.
Cates said, “We want to help for any of the municipalities in the county and so we offered to help Islamorada get through these issues they’re having and hopefully get a permanent manager fairly soon. It’s timely and we’re just trying to help Islamorada to get through these issues.”
Miami-Dade County did something similar a few years ago, so it’s not unprecedented.
Cates said, “All of Islamorada is in the county, all the constituents, there are constituents in the county. We’re just trying to help them out in the interim, and get them through these issues. Hopefully, their council will be able to work together and find a replacement and get back on track quickly. But we’re there for them because it’s they’re an important part of the whole county and the economy, and the residents, so we’re just reaching out to try to help.”
With Cook helping in Islamorada, people in his department will step in to help, but he won’t be full time in Islamorada.
Cates said, “Islamorada will reimburse the county for the loss of the wages that he was doing up there so it’s fair to the taxpayers. The county’s not paying for the manager of Islamorada. So it will be fair, it’ll be there enough time that is necessary to straighten them up.”
It’s budget time in the county.
Cates said, “The county has set the maximum millage rate. Right now we’ll start having some meetings, public meetings to discuss the budget and asking the staff to come back, try to sharpen the pencils make, bring some of the costs down. Obviously, the increase, none of us are really happy about. As all expenses have gone up, the same thing has gone up for the county. Insurances have gone through the roof, which is a huge expense.”
What about tourism tax revenue?
Cates said, “It is going down in that it’s going back to pre COVID tourism. Slower in the summer as you see now, summer has slowed back down, because different parts of the Caribbean is open now and people are starting to travel, again, and the Caribbean islands you can drive to so we’re extra busy. That being said, we’re starting to wind back down. Not that it’s getting bad. It’s just getting back to pre COVID, which was very good at that time, also. We’ve got to prepare that that is going to go down.
Affordable housing is always on everyone’s mind in the Keys.
Cates said, “We’re working on that. The money that we changed to a different account in the TDC and we have that money reserved for possibly affordable housing. In the future, we’re going to work with our legislators to try to make some changes in Tallahassee to be used for that. So that’s a big priority. Also a huge priority is hurricane season. With the temperatures of the water so high, there’s a good chance that we may get a storm here. So we got to we have to understand and prepare for it. I think that the residents are very conscious of that. So I’m like preaching to the choir, but we can’t stress it enough.”
Could Monroe County become a charter county?
Cates said, “It has to go as a referendum. So what we’re working on now is informing the public and see if we could get support for it and understand what we’re trying to do. Obviously everyone has concerns of what bigger government or stronger government could mean to the county. So we need to make sure that they understand that’s not the purpose of it. It is to raise money for our infrastructure, sea level rise, which is so important. We have a lot of people in the Keys asking to elevate their roads, because they have to drive through on salt water certain times of the year, and it’s very understandable, but it does cost money. So it’s different options we’re looking at. If we did get the support of the residents, we’ll put it on a referendum and let them vote on it. The most important part is they can make an informed decision when they vote. We need to get them as much information and understand what can be done and can’t be done. So if we do come up with a charter that we would recommend, it would have checks and balances in there so that citizens are protected for any future changes and it would always have to go to a referendum to make the changes.”