Key West has seen a lot of changes over the years

Sam Kaufman, Commissioner for the City of Key West, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on in the city.

Kaufman is in his ninth year serving on the commission and has seen many changes.

He said, “Well, I mean, some things stay the same. You mentioned the weather and up north, it’s really cold. So we have people coming to Key West to visit and enjoy what we know is the best city in the whole world. That’s not changing. I think the future’s bright for us in that perspective. That really hasn’t changed too much. What’s changed is there’s a lot of challenges for residents with the cost of living and housing in particular. With this upcoming election cycle, I think you’re going to hear a lot about that more than ever. In some ways, the economy is stabilizing, I think in terms of businesses and employment and housing to some extent, but there’s still real, real challenges in that regard.”

Certainly the cost of living has gone up everywhere.

Kaufman pointed out, “I don’t think the city has done everything it could have in the last 10 years, but I think we’re making some strides and some steps in the right direction. We have the 3.2 being developed. There’s a major project, I’m working on it at the Poinciana housing community, which will hopefully have a major announcement soon from state funding in the next month or two. We’ve got our Move In Assistance Program up and running again, for those who need some rental assistance getting into some apartments. There’s some things that are that are really positive in that regard. But we can’t have all the reliance on the government. We really need what you’re seeing on the ground. Businesses are providing housing for their employees much more than ever before. I think we saw that in year 2023 as a big trend.”

What future initiatives could help with affordable housing?

Kaufman said, “I think a big thing is we really need to be very smart with how we use our tax dollars, bed tax dollars in particular. I’m not happy with the fact that TDC dollars with a $25 million surplus, not $1 can be used for affordable housing. I think that’s really a big mistake by the government and not pushing that much more. Also, I think that land authority funds, the bed tax dollars have not been used to maximize the number of additional units. I think that, in hindsight, I think the expenditure of $12.5 million dollars for Perry Court was a mistake. That was five or six years ago, I was adamant about that at the time. I also think that the $5 million that were needed this year for the 3.2 from the land of authority funds, was a mistake as well. We need to be smarter. We need these millions of dollars to go to build or to redevelop additional units or to purchase units to house employees and families. Those are the types of things in the big picture that I would like to see some improvement.”

Kaufman’s district actually has the highest population count of all the districts in the city.

He said, “It’s the highest count, but the lowest number of voters. It’s an interesting thing. We’re actually going to be deciding I think it’s the next City Commission meeting to adjust the boundary line between District One and District Two because there’s some confusion with regard to the division at the city marina where the house boats are. One side was reassigned to District One and the other side was assigned to District Two, and it’s created some confusion. With the election coming up we certainly want to fix that.”

2024 will bring a presidential election as well as local elections.

Kaufman said, “I think that the theme for 2023 and 2024 is transition and new direction for the city. It’s been very positive with the new city manager, Albert Childress. He has been a breath of fresh air in terms of bringing standards of practice that the city has not really had, never had a city manager who’s been certified and trained by the League of Cities. He brings a lot of talent and skill that is helping the city move to the much more professional path in all regards. So it’s really positive. The same thing with transition this year, we’re going to have at least three new city commissioners. So it’s going to be another big transition and I’m really looking forward to working with the new group of people to support the city manager and moving in in the positive direction that he’s been taken us.”

The hurricane evacuation modeling is always a big topic.

Kaufman said, “It’s a huge issue. I think we all agree that the county’s approach was very reasonable in asking for an additional year to report back to the state legislature and the executive branch in Tallahassee with respect to Monterey County’s position. That gives us a year to really analyze the data, as a city to give input to the county and have our residents give input and feedback as far as this is concerned, because this whole concept of the rapidly increasing storms like Hurricane Ian, that we had in 2022, that sort of storm really creates a difficulty with regard to evacuation in short order. So I’m certainly in favor of very thorough analysis and any recommendation needs to ensure that there’s safe availability and time to evacuate everybody.”

The Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend is coming up.

Kaufman said, “It’s a really good opportunity to showcase our one human family. It’s Monday January 15 at 5 o’clock is the parade. We typically will line up at 4pm at Nelson English Park in Bahama village. Everybody’s welcome. It’s fun every year.”