Monroe County offices are always busy

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

While there is no meeting of the commissioners this month, work continues.

Lincoln said, “It’s so crazy not having a county commission meeting this month. I think this is the first time the commissioners have ever opted to take a vacation month and I think it’s been very beneficial for staff. I think it gave them a month of not having to prepare an agenda and the backup materials and all of the time away from them doing their job to put together an agenda and attend a meeting. So it’s given staff some extra time for their own employees and our own team to take some vacation time but also to maybe get caught up on some projects and some of the initiatives and policies that we challenged them to create for us. It’s given them a little bit more time to do that. I know for sure the Monroe County Parks and Beaches Department were working overtime this summer as far as putting on for the first time ever summer programs. It was just really nice to see all of our families children out there at the park.”

The Public Works Department is also hard at work.

Lincoln said, “They never stop. They’re spread so thin because they take care of all of our parks, all of our beaches, all of our structures, our buildings. One of the things I’m really excited about was over the past few months, they were working in Big Pine at the Winn Dixie Plaza where my office is held. We also have our Monroe County Library there and it was closed for a month or so for renovations and they were doing that work. We also started renting property over there where we wanted to put in a large community center. During Irma, we lost our senior center that was in Big Pine, and then we kind of converted some space at the Blue Heron. It just didn’t really work. It wasn’t large enough. So we’re really we’re excited to find this spot in the Winn Dixie Plaza that did not need a ton of renovation. It needed a little work, but not a lot. So our own, we did it in house. We saved a ton of taxpayer’s money and time and we’re able to get the center back open. We opted not to call it a senior center anymore, but a community center because we wanted to make sure that we use this space as long as often as we can. Obviously our seniors get first dibs at the calendar, and the members of the AARP coordinate with our Monroe County Parks and Beaches Department coordinating the schedule. But if there’s additional time available, we’re opening it up to the Boy Scouts, thee Girl Scouts. Mahjong was in there this week. The quilters are there on Tuesdays. Now we have our meal programs back there now every Monday through Friday, providing food in for lunches. It’s just so much fun to see that building being utilized. And right next to it we also now have our two of our staff members from our building department. So if the residents in the Lower Keys don’t want to go to Key West or they don’t want to drive to Marathon,  we’re staffed there Monday through Friday.”

The Monroe County Director of Employee Services, Brian Cook, is helping out in Islamorada as village manager.

Lincoln said, “We always have this mantra that we are connected by our bridges. We’re Key Strong and we’re truly only as strong as our weakest link. If there is an area in our county that that needs a little help, I just love the fact that we were able to step in and say look, we’re going to loan you Brian Cook. He’s still our director. I think there is an exit plan. But he’s a free agent. If Islamorada falls in love with him and he falls in love with Islamorada and wants to stay on, we do have a plan in place if that would happen. We are not expecting that to happen. But, nothing is set in stone. We all know that. But we do have a plan in place, just in case. I love the fact that we’re in a position that we can do this that, again, it shows the camaraderie we have among all of the elected officials up and down the Keys. It’s just this, we love each other. We all know each other. We all want the best for each of our municipalities and for the county. We’ve all had our hiccups. And sitting on a dais is not easy. It’s a lot of actively listening to the other Commissioners and the residents in the community. It takes a skill to then weave together something that works for everyone. We just wish the best for Islamorada. They are definitely a wonderful municipality and a great partner in our county, and we want them to succeed as a municipality.”

The budgeting process in the county is continuing.

Lincoln said, “We really have a responsibility of providing a level of service for our residents that they expect. We have to take care of the needs of our residents. At the same time, we know we have an influx of visitors that are here every day that also drain our resources, but also need services. So our EMS, our fire rescue our Sheriff’s Department, all of those individuals have to have their A game, which means we have to be staffed correctly. And that’s expensive. And the cost of living here is expensive. We had a $5.2 million increase in our building insurance alone. That’s not even taking into effect the cost of living and raises that we wanted to give our employees, our staff, so that we keep them. When I say our staff, I don’t just mean the Monroe County staff, I mean, the fire rescue, and I mean the sheriff’s department, all of their budgets come under us. All of the constitutional officer’s budgets come through our county. I was very proud that Roman and all of the directors of the other elected officials from the constitutional officers all got together, and were on the same page of what type of cost of living raise we were providing our employees, and it was the same across the board. So, again, I think that speaks highly for how well our community gets along, and how well we all know we must value the people that we have working for us, and we need them to stay and they need to be able to pay their stack of bills that are on their home desk as well.”