Let’s talk a library makeover, workforce housing and the bicentennial celebration in Monroe County

Michelle Lincoln, Monroe County Commissioner, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on in the county.

The new Big Pine Key library opened on Saturday.

Lincoln said, “I’m just so proud of the staff at all of our libraries and especially the crew at the Big Pine Library. For the past couple of months they were very flexible and helping move the books out of the building and then getting all the new furniture and redesigning the layout and bringing in new technical devices. It’s so exciting. This was exciting to be able to have this beautiful face lift for the Big Pine Library. It’s going to be much brighter and easier to access all the information.”

A new community center for seniors in Big Pine is close to opening as well.

Lincoln explained, “It’s going to be right there in the Winn Dixie Plaza as well. In fact, we were storing the library books in that building. So we kind of even did a little train line where we took the books, one by one out of the community center and carried them over to the library. I think within a couple of weeks, we’ll be having another grand opening there in the Winn Dixie Plaza for the Community/Senior Center.”

Big Pine is also getting new playground equipment for the community park and the Rec Department will begin the summer camp program soon.

Lincoln said, “So I feel like we’re just doing a lot of fun and exciting things here and in my district, which is always exciting and fun.”

The Monroe County Commissioners have been briefed on the audit of the Monroe County Fire and Rescue.

Lincoln assured, “The copy of that is on my desk. We we welcome an audit. We welcome extra eyes looking on how, as a county, we can do things better, how we can improve. Definitely what happened last year was a tragedy. I feel for the nurse who has an addiction that caused this. However, we need to have better checks and balances in place. I’m pleased that she got rehabbed or is in a rehabilitation facility and getting the help he needs. I’m pleased that already we’re looking at how we do our inventory differently and how it’s now computerized and how there’s different eyes that are looking at it. I feel very confident making sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

Sheriff Rick Ramsay’s department handled the investigation.

Lincoln said, “His staff were very professional in handling the investigation that they had to conduct. That had to be tough. First responders are first responders and they work together, they collaborate, they’re all at the same scene together, so when there’s a tragedy, they’re there arm in arm with each other. So they held themselves very high and professional through that whole process. I can’t say enough about our firefighters as well. They’re a great bunch and hiccups and bad things happen in every work environment. This was something that should have been prevented and now hopefully it’ll never happen again.”

Mike Stapleford of KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM noted, “You’re right the fire department personnel deserve to be commended. There were a few people who took something way too far and unfortunately it got out of hand, but that is not a sweeping characterization of the Monroe County Fire Rescue by any means.”

Hurricane modeling workshops finished up in Key Largo yesterday.

Lincoln said, “I think that there was the same theme throughout everybody who got up and spoke what their concerns were and I believe that the Department of Economic Opportunity heard them. They’ll take that information now back with them to Tallahassee. My understanding is, they’re going to use the exact same methodology and modeling that they did in 2012 and just plug in these new numbers and see what plays out with that. I think I think they heard it loud and clear that people are concerned with the safety and safely being able to move out during an evacuation and how it’s important for them not just to look at Monroe County, but also at Homestead and Miami Dade, because that’s the traffic that we have to merge with once we get out of the Keys.”

Workforce housing was also discussed and how is the Department of Economic Opportunity going to balance that?

Lincoln said, “This was a time, mainly they came to listen to our constituents, our residents, and not give so much of their own opinion right now. So I’ll be curious to see when they come back again, what they’re going to have for us on what the modeling is showing.”

A legislative update will be heard at the County Commission meeting on June 21.

Lincoln said, “I do believe that Monroe County received a huge sum of millions of dollars this year, even more than we did last year. So thank you very much to our House Representative Jim Mooney and Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez, for always going to advocate for Monroe County.”

The agenda for the 21st includes workforce housing.

Lincoln said, “That is up and down the Keys one of the top three issues that that I hear about. It’s either the environment, it’s US 1 highway traffic, and it’s our housing needs. I’m very excited on our agenda to see a few items that could help improve our workforce housing. One of them would be for us approving 10 workforce housing ROGOs, in collaboration with the Upper Keys Habitat for Humanity. I absolutely love these because this is giving 10 families an opportunity at home ownership. The Habitat for Humanity model is they do sweat equity, and they help earn their home and then they can remain in it as long as they want to. It’s such a great way of keeping people here in a home.”

A unique opportunity has come up with a developed in the Upper Keys called South Cliff Estates.

Lincoln explained, “The developers have been working on this project for years. They’re received their deed restricted ROGOs. Their plans have all been approved and they’ve now approached the school board and the county, to see if we’d be interested in a partnership, where the school board and the county buy South Cliff Estates. It’s 28 units. So half would be available for employees of the Monroe County school system, and half of them would be for employees of Monroe County. I’m very excited about this discussion. It’ll be one of many that we will have. But several months ago at one of our county commission meetings, the commissioners discussed the need for us to be looking at ways that we’re protecting our own employees for workforce housing. We have over 800 employees and we’re always looking for more employees, and sometimes it comes right down to we offer him a job, and then they can’t find a place to live. If we’re putting pressure on our developers to provide workforce housing for their businesses, we need to do the same internally to protect our staff who are so needed for the level of service that’s required to run this county. So here’s a way we can have an opportunity to possibly have 14 housing units available in the Upper Keys for employees of our county.”

A number of organizations work hard together to maintain workforce housing – the Monroe County Land Authority works with Habitat for Humanity often.

Lincoln said, “I love the collaboration that we have with organizations that want to help build workforce housing units. We’re always open to any great idea in any partnership, that that can definitely help. I mean, all of these agencies, we all need to start looking at what we can do on our own to help our own employees.”

The bicentennial celebration will continue in Monroe County this Saturday night.

Lincoln said, “I’m very excited about that. We’ve been having so much fun, up and down the Florida Keys, celebrating our 200th. There was a wonderful celebration Saturday night in Islamorada. It was just another magical night and it was fun. There was several hundred people in attendance.”

This Saturday the party will start at 6 p.m. at Rowells Park in Key Largo.

Lincoln said, “There’s going to be bands playing music and there’s going to be food and jump houses for the kids and just a good old fashioned family picnic. We’ll end it at nighttime with fireworks.”

The County Commission meetings can be viewed in person or on Zoom.

Lincoln said, “If you come in person, you can fill out a blue card on any topic that we’re discussing, that you would like to weigh in on. If you’re attending via Zoom, you just raise your virtual hand and we’ll get you in to hear what you have to say on whatever the topic is that we’re discussing. I love that about how transparent our county is and how we completely welcome our community members to voice their opinions to us. I look forward to doing all we can do to continue to make Monroe County and the Florida Keys a fabulous place to live, work, raise a family or make it a tourist destination.”