Let’s check in with the City of Marathon

September 16 — It’s been budget hearings and talk of ordinances in the City of Marathon recently. 

George Garrett, City Manager for Marathon, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to discuss goings on in the city. 

This weekend will see the Best of Marathon at the Community Park, where the proceeds will benefit the Rotary Club of Marathon, so there’s a lot to look forward to. 

In November, nine people will be running for four seats on the City Council. 

Garrett said, “Please go out and vote. It’s very important. Go cast your vote. It needs to happen. It’s part of the process of being a Democracy, a Republic. We get to make our choices, which is great.” 

In the Primary Election, a voter referendum to make sure council members would have staggered terms in the election cycles passed.

Garrett said, “I really want to thank our voters for having voted to protect ourselves in the event that we do have people stepping down that we don’t end up in a situation where we potentially have five people up for election in one year. I think people understood that issue and I’m so pleased they passed it because I think it just protects us from having to educate five new council members, potentially.” 

Budget hearings and talks saw a unanimous vote from the Marathon City Council to approve the tentative tax rate for the 2022-2023 budget. 

Garrett said, “I think it’s a good budget. Really a pretty lean budget and honestly not a lot of additions there that we wouldn’t normally have.” 

The budget will also see a lot of items concerning resiliency and climate change. 

Garrett said, “We’re taking advantage honestly of the fact that we do have a fairly robust economy right now. We certainly have in the last year or two, we’re seeing that in the values on the tax rolls. Now is the time I think in the mindset of the council and staff when you need to sort of fill your coffers and make sure we’re prepared for things like the possibility of a hurricane or tropical system, whether it’s this year or future years. You can have the reserve budgets that you need based on being able to acquire it through a robust period of time. So we feel good about that.”

Council was able to lower the milage rate a little bit. In June the proposed rate was 2.77 mills. It was reduced this week to 2.72 mills. 

The Marathon reserve is close to $17 million, which is almost 12 months of operation. 

Garrett said, “I think going beyond that makes no sense. Then we’re just filling a bank account. We used our reserves, which at that time was a little over six months after Irma, probably in about two days and then spent the next three years trying to recover it through FEMA and taking out loans, etc., to do it while we continued to operate. So we’re very happy to be at a one year level.” 

Keep in mind, hurricane season is still among us, so don’t get complacent. There are tropical storms on the horizon that are being watched closely. 

A final budget hearing will be on September 20. 

Garrett said, “We’re beginning to do a little bit of what Key West does knowing that we have a very large tourist economy here. So we’re looking at boat ramp fees and beach parking fees.”

Nothing has been determined officially yet on those fees, though. There is still ongoing discussion. 

October 21 is Be Like Mike Day to remember Mike Forster and all the good he did for the Keys. Mike passed away from COVID recently.  

Garrett said, “What a loss to the community. He was really a great individual. Certainly a personal friend as he was to many people. Sorry to have had that happen and we miss him.” 

Council will also be looking at a potential ban on smoking and alcohol in city parks. 

Garrett said, “The legislature gave the possibility for local governments, counties and cities to impose a ban on cigarette smoking on beaches and city or county parks. I think the county commission is putting forward an ordinance along those lines, following very precisely the statutory constraints that were provided and imposed.” 

The City of Marathon will do the same thing and the process of adopting the ordinance will begin next Tuesday at the budget hearing and continue in October. 

Garrett said, “We’ve always had, as many places do, restrictions on alcohol use in our parks. Those exist today. I think what was part of, in fact the cigarette ban got added to, a discussion about that which allowed law enforcement to have a bit more teeth in managing the issue of abuse of alcohol in our city parks and beaches. We’ve never been a huge advocate of enforcing that ordinance. It’s there when we need it. We use it discretionarily, based on the need. I think what we’re seeing is just some abuse of use of alcohol in our parks, particularly community park. So we gave law enforcement a little bit more capacity to manage it and actually enforce it.” 

The ordinance as it stands and with the modifications would affect all Marathon parks and beaches. 

Garrett pointed out, “The intent of the city and our law enforcement folks will be to really enforce it where there’s abuse, not if you’re having a beer down at Sombrero Beach, that’s going to be fine and it’s going to be acceptable. Nothing drastically changed there.”