Let’s see what’s been happening in Monroe County

Craig Cates, Mayor of Monroe County and Commissioner of District 1, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been happening in the county.

A town hall meeting was held concerning the needs of Stock Island recently after the Department of Health of Monroe County conducted a survey.

Cates said, “That went very well. It hit a lot of key points – access to services, access to health insurance, access to doctor’s office visits, issues with housing. We have a much better understanding of what those issues are and now all the organizations that can address that were there. We’re able to be able to better serve that community, which is a big part of the workers in Key West because it’s less expensive to live on Stock Island than it is in Key West proper because of the high rental rates.”

A separate workshop last week addressed a number of other issues, including the floodplain, and FEMA inspections with downstairs enclosures.

Cates said, “An ordinance came in effect in March to deal with some changes with the floodplain. Some of them were required by FEMA, some of them weren’t. What ended up happening, we had a special workshop for the residents, the industry and all the commissioners, which I thank my fellow commissioners for being very involved in addressing these issues.”

On March 7, inspections were required for downstairs enclosures and any issues under the floodplain.

Cates said, “We’ve had it for years, but we weren’t enforcing it. Now the county has started to enforce it and people had some serious concerns. We postponed the implementation of that ordinance until September while we address these concerns. We showed the citizens and the industry why we were doing this and then we heard reasons why we shouldn’t do it and we’re going to try to work together to address all that. I think it was very productive and I think we will be able to address all the concerns and come out with a much better product.”

The ordinance addresses what will be allowed in downstairs enclosures and some of the changes come from FEMA.

Cates said, “They were restricted because of the issues the county had way back in the 70s and 80s and 90s with issues with downstairs enclosures and they have a remedial agreement with FEMA that makes it more stricter than any other cities have, municipalities in the county. So the county was not in good terms with FEMA back then. We almost lost the flood insurance completely, which would have been disastrous. So they made these concessions. So now since we’re in good standing with FEMA, we’re going to go back and meet with FEMA and see if we can get some of those restrictions that the county has to have removed. So we’ll be consistent with the municipalities, which 52 percent of all the houses sold and permitted are in the cities, the municipalities and the county has less, but we’re more restricted. That being said, we’re going to try to work with FEMA to get them removed, which will lessen some of the restraints on the residents.”

The online permitting system has been in effect for a few months and smaller permits have a five business-day turnaround time for issuance now. Larger permits can take up to 12 days. That has been an improvement.

Cates said, “Now that we have online permitting, the biggest change that allows them to increase the speed of the permitting process is they all used to have to be read and reviewed on the paper permit. So it had to be sent by carrier all through the Keys. That was very time consuming. Now they can electronically send it. So that really increased the time, plus saved money for the residents. Those are the kind of things that we’re addressing. I think it’s going to be great for everybody.”

Target times for issuing permits are being hit 95 percent of the time – it used to take more than 40 days with the paper permits.

Cates said, “We’re moving as fast as it can be done at this time.”

The bicentennial 200th anniversary celebration for Monroe County kicked off with a drone show a few weekends ago.

Cates said, “It’s just amazing how many people come together to make that a special night. They were estimating 4,500 people in the amphitheater and then there were thousands all around the park to watch the drone show. It was a great evening for the residents of Monroe County.”