Let’s check in with the City of Key West

July 18 – Key West City Mayor Teri Johnston joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5Fm this morning to talk about issues facing the city. 

Florida lobster season, known as mini season, is coming up very soon, which will increase the population in town. 

The city will be having budget hearings on July 25, 27 and 28. 

Johnston explained, “We do a real in-depth budget process. The city manager sits down with every one of the departments and finance and then the city commission has an opportunity to do exactly the same thing.” 

There are a lot of requests from each department and the commissioners like to analyze the costs and benefits. 

Johnston said, “We’re going to take an in-depth look at that. It’s a long three days, but it’s a very important three days because as you know we’ve had a number of things that have gone up in the world. Gas has gone up. Groceries have gone up and we certainly want to make sure that our locals can maintain in the city of Key West, so we’ll be taking a really close look at the budget.” 

In terms of all those rising costs, the City isn’t certain those costs will be able to be absorbed.

“We certainly don’t want to operate at a loss,” Johnston explained. “I think that puts the community very much in jeopardy. For years we were at rollback and what rollback actually means is we take in the exact amount of money that we took in the year before. All of our goods and services, like our electric bill, which has gone up a couple thousand dollars a month and all the goods and services that we’re required to buy as a City to provide a quality of life for our residents have gone up. I certainly think that we have to recognize those costs. We certainly are not doing anything extravagant in the City of Key West. What we’re doing is we’re actually taking care of what we have right now and we’re improving our existing structures, which I think is a real prudent use of tax dollars in our venues that we have in the City.”

When it comes to the cost of energy, the cost of asphalt, the cost of concrete and the cost of salaries going up, they need to be covered to have a prudent budget.

The budget meetings will also discuss other projects, including Bayview Park.

Johnston said, “We are right now working with Bert Bender and if you’ve seen any of Bert’s projects, he just does beautiful work. Bert is designing the park. It’s in the middle of the City of Key West. It has always been a free park and a great area of enjoyment for our residents. It’s just a great neighborhood park, but it needs a face lift so that we can get more and more kids out there after school and during the summer working on very creative things.”

Additionally by the end of the year, the City is hoping to break ground on the new temporary homeless overnight shelter. It will be on the Sheriff’s property right where it is right now, but it will be a concrete block structure that is up and out of flood elevation and can withstand the wind.

Also, the City’s work force housing units will be constructed.

Johnston said, “Our 103 unit one-bedroom, one-bath affordable work force housing units, the housing authority will actually be taking applications for those later this year. We look forward to those coming online and giving us some housing relief.”

The Frederick Douglas Gym will also see some improvements as well.

Johnston said, “That’s where we house the Bahama Village music program and we have such incredibly talented children in our community. They take lessons there, give concerts there and they are going to have a beautiful new facility there.”

The city is about 80% finished with the design on that.

Mallory Square is a wonderful waterfront venue for the city that will also see some upgrades.

Johnston said, “Right now we’re using it about two hours a day because it’s so warm down there. We’re going to be adding some sun shades and some new restrooms and some landscaping and we’re going to make it very desirable for locals and visitors alike to spend some time in a free area with a waterfront view.”

Tomorrow evening the commissioners will hold a special meeting about Peary Court Apartments. The City purchased the complex a number of years ago using Land Authority Funds. 

Johnston said, “The reason for the purchase was to make sure that it would retain its status as an affordable housing project. They have come in front of us and would like to build another 48 units. Actually 15 of those would be moved from two-bedroom units and make them into 30 one-bedroom bedroom units and then they would build another 33 multi-family units, larger, 2 and 3 bedroom units within the facility and they certainly have space to do that.” 

The initial contract gave the authority to infill up to 208 units. They’ve got 48 more to do. 

The details will be discussed tomorrow evening at the meeting at 5 p.m. in City Hall.

Demetria Simpson has been hired as an affordable housing coordinator in Key West and has hit the ground running.

Johnston said, “She brings to us almost 30 years of affordable housing experience, not only working in public/private partnerships, but working with HUD, with Section 8. She is just a wealth of knowledge and experience.” 

Members of the Key West Fire Department and Police Department took part in the College of the Florida Keys Future Heroes Summer Camp.

Also National Night Out will be held in Bayview Park on August 2.

Johnston said, “That’s one of the best events because you really get out and you have a chance to meet your law enforcement team one on one in a great situation because let’s face it, when you need a law enforcement person or you need a fire department person, it’s normally in time of a crisis or in time of a situation of really high stress, so it’s really nice to meet these dedicated men and women in a situation where it’s not high stress and you get to know them because they’re members of our community. They’re human beings, they’re contributors to everything that we do here in the City of Key West, so it’s great to get a chance to meet them in a much different scenario.”

Mike Stapleford of KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM said, “They’re terrific role models. They do a very good job communicating with the public and that will be another instance of that on August 2.”

Also on August 2, the next formal City Commission meeting will be held.

Johnston said, “We certainly encourage all of our public engagement that we can get. That’s how we make better decisions when we have your input.”

For agendas on all of the upcoming meetings, click here: https://keywest.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx