It’s Story Slam, budget talks, new positions and millage rate in Key West

August 1 – There’s a lot happening in the city of Key West and Mayor Teri Johnston joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s going on.

Last week wrapped up with Story Slam, which was a chance for people to come to the microphone and tell a story. This time the theme was My Roots. The next theme will be My Big Mistake.

Johnston said, “It was really a great experience. I got up and started talking and it was just such a pleasurable experience, just talking about your roots. It was really enlightening and a wonderful evening with a lot of great people.”

Each Story Slam benefits a non-profit.

Johnston said, “It’s kind of a lost art. We don’t do that much anymore. What I was telling the audience is, you know it’s kind of sad, because as you’re in public life for a long period of time, you tend to share less with the public. You have less opportunities because you’re always talking about issues rather than personal items. So it was really nice to share with the group on Friday night.”

The shortage of employees also affects the city – Key West is short 40 employees.

Johnston said, “We’ve had some areas in the city where we have had openings for over two years. The building department comes to mind. Finding qualified, trained inspectors has been very difficult for the city of Key West.”

That’s one of the reasons the city took a look at the compensation package last year and readjusted some salaries to bring them to a more competitive level. The adjustment amounted to $2.2 million.

Fully staffed, there are about 525 employees in the city.

Johnston said, “We found basically that we were lacking behind the other local entities, like Florida Keys Aqueduct and Keys Energy and Monroe County and the college. We were lacking behind comparable positions by about 20 percent.”

The current proposed budget will add EMS firefighters and additional police officer positions.

Johnston said, “That really is the bulk of the changes in the budget for next year. Our employees really make up about 80 percent of our entire budget. So we think long and hard before we add an employee and we think long and hard before replacing an employee because our job is really to take a look and say are we providing adequate goods and services to our residents by adding this position? Is there value in that?”

The budget meetings last week brought pretty lengthy conversations about the potential new positions.

Johnston said, “I think every single commissioner up there was agreeable in order to give the new positions, but what we would like to see also in return is we would like to see that overtime go down.”

This year there is $900,000 in overtime budgeted for the police department.

The new positions are actually bringing back old positions.

Johnston said, “If you remember during COVID, the chief did have a marine division and what we did was because all of our ports were closed down during COVID, we moved those officers who were serving in the marine division into his road patrol, into his current staff. So we didn’t eliminate them, we moved them into some openings, to replace some openings he had in his staff.”

The millage rate will fluctuate.

Johnston explained, “We cannot come back up as we set our millage rates for the first pass. Right now not only are we in negotiations for a number of new positions in the police and fire department, but we’re also in negotiations with the fire union. So we have not come to an agreement there, which we want to make sure that we have everything covered. We came in at a relatively high millage rate with the understanding that we are going to come down based on additional cuts that we are able to make inside and successful negotiations with our union for the fire department.”

The Key West City Commission will meet tomorrow night at 5 p.m. in City Hall. Click here for the agenda:

The meeting can also be seen via Zoom or on Channel 77.

The city will authorize the purchase for 40 Lifepak CR2 AEDS with pads and related accessories for the EMS department for about $60,000.

Johnston said, “We’re going to go to second reading on that requirement that any landlord that is raising your rent by over five percent must give you a 60-day notice. That is going on to second reading tomorrow night.”

Also going on to second reading is the ordinance that actually lightens up the requirements for a variance for building coverage and open space.

Johnston said this is a “real common sense ordinance that has been fully vetted in the industry. It really makes it easier to get a variance. In recognition that most of the lots in the city of Key West are undersized and irregular lots. So in recognition of that, we’re trying to make it easier for people to do things on their own property.”

The Sheriff’s affordable housing for his staff on Trumbo Road will also be discussed.

The city pool also needs lifeguards.

Johnston said, “We have to do that all over. If we really do want to recruit and retain talent, then we’ve got to think outside the box a little bit.”