Let’s see what’s been happening in Islamorada…

Mark Gregg, the Village of Islamorada Council Member, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM to talk about what’s been going on in the village.

Since the Village Council decided in a 3-2 vote to not renew the contract for the well-liked village manager Ted Yates, decisions had to be made as to how to move forward.

Gregg said, “I was not chipper and upbeat with the council’s decision to not renew Ted Yates’ contract as our manager. I was very upset about that. On a personal level, I lost sleep over it. But I have to accept the reality that Mayor Buddy Pinder and I were on the losing side of that vote and the other three members of the council determined Ted’s fate. So he’s no longer with us. However, the good news is, as of yesterday morning, we have hired an interim manager by the name of Brian Cook.”

Cook comes from Monroe County.

Gregg said, “It’s part of a unique program that is allowed under state law where one government can loan, for lack of a better word, an employee to another government. And so we have an inter-local agreement between Islamorada and Monroe County for Brian to come aboard. So we have a manager.”

In terms of his compensation, Islamorada will make one payment to the county every month for Cook’s services.

Gregg said, “It’s all inclusive. They take care of his insurance, and his retirement and his health and all that kind of stuff. We contribute a little bit to that in there. But for the most part, it’s one fee for his service. The initial contract is for 60 days. Then at the end, either side can decide to walk away if that’s the case. But the idea is for us to search for a permanent manager, while Brian is filling in, in the vacancy. And it could be that he actually becomes our permanent manager. He’s fully welcomed, and in my view, encouraged to apply, when we get to the 60 day thing. We may not be in a position to hire a new manager, I doubt we will be. We’ve got plenty of time to come up with a solution. The good news is that Ted Yates left the village in excellent condition. He’d gotten us turned around from some of the irregularities that occurred from his predecessor. All departments were working well. The budget was fully developed. We’ve had a couple of budget workshops where all of that came to fruition. But overall, we’re in good shape. I’m glad to have Brian aboard. I haven’t spent much time with him and I don’t know him very well, but the little bit I’ve gotten to know of him, he seems like an excellent candidate for interim manager and a likely good candidate for permanent manager. So I look forward to working with him as we move forward.”

In terms of the search for a manager, information has gone out to media.

Gregg said, “I understand that it’s in whatever media is out there where potential manager candidates would be looking so that they should be able to find us. In the last two times we did this we hired a personnel search firm. They solicit applications within the city manager community out there, whatever that is. They did that for us two times, and they brought back several candidates, we’ve narrowed that down to a few and then we selected our choice after that. So we may or may not get to that point. I’ll make an editorial comment. Try not to be negative, but I have to be realistic. I’m concerned that we’re not going to attract very many candidates, certainly not very many quality candidates, with the most recent track record that we’ve established. Our average manager’s lifespan is about 2.2 years and given the some of the acrimonious things that occurred during the most recent council meetings with regard to discussions on Ted Yates’ extension or non extension, I think they may have some pause there. But I certainly hope I’m wrong. I hope I have to apologize for what I just said, by hopefully, we’ll get somebody good and they’ll come in and we’ll get them on board quickly. I’m optimistic that Brian Cook could fill that spot there. So that’s basically how we’re going forward.”

Gregg is grateful to the county for the help.

He said, he wanted to “make a special thank you statement to Roman Gastesi, the county manager. He was the brainchild that put all this together. But I have to also give credit to our Mayor Buddy Pinder, who was the one who reached out to the county and to Roman and those two are the ones who kind of hatched this idea. So my thought was that not renewing Ted’s contract was kind of a self inflicted wound because there was no plan and they just wanted to get rid of him and then just kind of see what we could come up with after that. Buddy Pender and Roman Gatesi came to the rescue and solve the problem. I really appreciate what they did. They saved us.”

Cook is currently working as the village manager.

Gregg said, “He is our guy. He’s in the manager’s chair as we speak. I have a meeting with today. Before he was even hired, he was attending our meetings via Zoom and kind of catching up on things offline, researching us. So he’s actually, in a sense, been on the job for about a week or more, getting ready to take the seat yesterday. So I’m super excited about working with him. He’s a really bright guy and he’s got a lot of experience. Holly and the other county commissioners were involved in this. I should have mentioned them too when thanking Roman and Buddy for putting this together. They too were a big part of this and their philosophy is and I wasn’t aware of this I really like it is that we’re one big county family. They’re not our competitors. They’re kind of like our big brothers and sisters. They saw a need, they saw a problem and they felt obligated to step in and provide a solution and that’s what they did. We have them to thank for that. I’m very grateful for that.”

The BPAS system has ended in Islamorada.

Gregg said, “BPAS, our building permit allocation system, if you’re in the county, it’s the equivalent of ROGO and so we have market rate homes that we can permit, affordable homes and then commercial square footage that we give out. We have come to the end of the all of the market rate allocations that were given to us by the state some 20 or so years ago. That means that if you want to build a new home in Islamorada, then you will have to acquire your permitting rights from a private source, namely a transferable development right or a TDR. You’ll have to buy one of those and then transfer it to whatever property you want to build on. I think it’s fair to say we’re close to are right at build out. We do have some administrative permits that we can give out, we have about 28 or so of those. We’re holding those kind of in the bank, you might say, because we will be receiving some claims from folks down the road who feel that we may have caused the taking of their property rights, by virtue of running out of permits, and so those reserved ones will be used to address those if necessary. We also have 300 affordable allocations that we can give out for affordable units, the workforce units, some call them the early evacuation units. Those are still out there, those are still available. But there’s some restrictions on those that won’t make them very appealing, except probably just apartment developers and so forth. That’s where we’re at. We’re kind of turning the corner on going from a development community, a growth community to a redevelopment community. That’s very exciting. That’s a choice that Islamorada made. It’s related to our desire to preserve the economy here, the environment here, and our quality of life.”

While there’s no formal moratorium on development, the village council is considering it.

Gregg said, “If I’m not mistaken, a moratorium ordinance is going to be placed on our agenda for our next regular village council meeting. Or maybe it’s a special call meeting, but it’s on the 17th of this month. If that is passed, it will discourage people or prevent people from filing an application for a market rate building permit for a home, because we don’t have any more left in the regular program. So it kind of makes sense. That’s going to help to give us some time to sort out what we’re going to do with that. There may also be, I’ve heard some discussion, I don’t know if it’s going to happen or not, there could be a moratorium on commercial development as well, but I’m not certain of that one.”

The trash contract for the village has also been ratified.

Gregg said, “We have a new solid waste carrier. That’s going to be Island Disposal, which is owned and operated by the Lindback family who’ve been here for 60, 70 years that I know of. They’re going to be local and we like that. They’re just kind of getting their whole business put together, at least physically, they’re getting new trucks, they have a new physical location in our industrial district. They have some local employees. So we’re really looking forward to them getting on line and taking over as of January 1st. That’ll be a new 10 year relationship with that new company.”

Budget talks are also in progress.

Gregg said, “It’s very exciting, I can say, to be dealing with a budget. Normally those are pretty boring and uninspiring conversations. But what’s happened is that the values of the properties in Islamorada that support the collection of the ad valorem taxes that we collect has gone crazy. I would attribute a lot of it to COVID. In the last two years, we’ve gone up, I think one year was 20 percent, another year was 17 percent and so the result for the coming year is that we’re going to have about a $600 or $700 million increase in property values, which translates into about $2 million in more taxes that we would collect, should we keep our millage rate at its current rate, which is the three mils. I’m not a big fan of collecting more money unless we really need to spend it. So we’ll see if we’re going to have any kind of a roll back, if so, how far? Or if we’re going to keep it the same to pay for some upcoming liabilities that we know are headed our way. That discussion will be coming I think the second and third week of September when we have our final budget hearings, but preliminarily, there’s not been much talk about any adjustment to the current millage rate but it’s not over yet.”

Other upcoming discussions could include strategic planning.

Gregg said, “Hopefully, with our new manager, Brian Cook, we’re going to continue some items that Ted Yates had started, one of which is strategic planning and some revisions to our land development regulations and our comprehensive land use plan as we transition from regular development to redevelopment. That to me is a big deal. That’s something as a former real estate lawyer, I have a strong interest in that. I’d like to see Islamorada preserve the beauty and the charm that it has in the environment and the quality of life. So I hope to have a hand in that and when I’m gone, I want my fingerprints to be on it.”