The bond referendum for Key West should hit the ballot box in November

Sam Kaufman, Key West City Commissioner for District II, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM to talk about what’s been going on in the city.

A city commission meeting will be held next Thursday. A session at 9 a.m. begins the day and follows with a session at 5 p.m.

Kaufman said, “We are really getting close to needing to make a decision on ballot language for the general obligation bond referendum, which the commission is looking to place on the ballot in November. This bond referendum would raise up to $300 million for city projects that are really needed and there is no funding for. Things like the Martin Luther King pool. We really need a new fire station, that’s really a high priority on Kennedy Drive. We need updates for our fire other fire station on North Roosevelt and many more projects like some people have been following the diesel plant for years. It’s really getting to a crucial time where we need to put money into the diesel plant down at Truman Waterfront before it falls apart.”

If the bond would not pass in referendum, what does it mean for the city? Would taxes have to be raised?

Kaufman said, “I’m really concerned about that and I think we all need to be concerned. Anyone who cares about these projects like the revitalization of Bayview Park, or Duvall Street or whatever, there tends to be an argument made when a referendum does not pass and that would be well, the public didn’t want these projects. So it’s not just a money issue. It’s a political decision type issue and what concerns me is that if the referendum does not pass, I’m hoping that that doesn’t mean all these worthwhile projects, and that are really needed to benefit us as a community, don’t go by the wayside entirely. I think it needs to be in this in this political cycle for us locals, I think it really needs to be the highlight of what we pay attention to.”

Education for the community to fully understand what all this means will be the key.

Kaufman said, “I’m not sure we need the complete $300 million, and the Commission has not been advised on the breakdown of that. We can reasonably disagree about the amount of funding, should it be $100 million, should it be $150 million, should it be $200 million or whatever? But these projects are really needing funding and anyone who follows the city budget knows that the capital projects have just been put off year after year after year. Anyone who’s a property owner, if you defer maintenance, you know what happens, your property, just, becomes really in bad shape. That’s really where some of our city properties are. Anyone that drives in our roads, know some of them really need this bond money. A general obligation bond pledges the full faith and credit of the city’s tax base. That means that it’s guaranteed that the bond will be repaid by tax dollars. So there will be a tax increase. Although the city says it’s a modest tax increase because it will be paid over many years, I think it’s 30 years. So the idea is just as a property owner would take out a loan, a second mortgage or a HELOC to make repairs to their home, the similar type of thing the city would take out this this bond in order to pave the roads now, in order to fix the pool now, in order to do all these things, without piece-mealing it over the years and we’ll never have enough money to replace the fire station for example.”

While the city is in good shape financially, there seems to never really be enough money.

Kaufman said, “As your listeners probably know, I am extremely conservative on tax increases. I have voted no on I think eight of the last nine budgets for the city because of tax increases. I am not a person who is in favor of tax increases. I’m a small business owner. I own property in the city, I understand the effect of raising taxes. This is different, though. This has to go with the responsibility of maintaining city property, and making sure that the assets that the city has, that there’s funds available to maintain them. I don’t know if the public knows, but the city is in extremely strong financial shape. There are no current general obligation bonds owed by the city, but the city owns maybe $400 or $500 million dollars with the property. So think about it. If the city owns half a billion dollars worth of property, and doesn’t have the money to maintain it, that’s a bad scenario. That’s why these numbers, they sound so big, but they are. But that’s because the city has been so successful over decades in maintaining its financial position.”

If it takes 30 years to pay the bond back, what happens if in 10 or 15 years the repairs need to be made again?

Kaufman said, “The idea is if it’s $300 million, the $300 million would not all be utilized at one time at the outset. It would be available. In other words, we’re a small island, there’s no way that this island could take the construction of $300 million at one time. We need to be sensitive to traffic flow, traffic congestion as a result of construction. We can’t do all the roads at once. We also do not have the contractors most likely to do all of this work at once. There’s a limited number of contractors that are available in Key West. So the idea is that these projects, some of them will take years just to develop. Those who follow city and county and government projects understand it usually takes one to two years just to do the design and architect drawings and then and then to get the funding in the right place. So I think that this bond, if it does pass would be utilized over many years. One project will be identified as priority over the other and they’ll be sequenced in that fashion.”

There is a bond workshop tomorrow to talk about this further at 3 p.m. in City Hall on White Street in City Commission chambers.

Kaufman said, “It’ll be on Channel 77 as well and broadcast and available on the website. If you can’t make the meeting, you could watch the video.”

Duvall Street revitalization has been discussed many times and there’s a meeting about that coming up, as well.

Kaufman said, “It’s interesting. My first three or four years, Duvall Street revitalization was never mentioned and then for the past five or six years, it really has been a hot topic. There is a workshop on Thursday. It’s going to be almost the entire day. It’s going to be held at the Gato Building on Simonton Street. The focus of the morning is for business owners. I would really encourage any business owners in the commercial corridor along Duvall Street to consider attending the morning session. In the afternoon, I think it’s 3 to 6 will be a general overview and focus for the entire community. But it’s really an important topic to understand what the infrastructure needs are for Duvall street, updating for sewer and stormwater. There’s a lot of flooding down there, especially on the side where Green Street is historically and throughout that area.”

Key West ended up in the national spotlight over the weekend with a car chase that revealed that Russia could be behind the mysterious traumatic brain injury known as Havana Syndrome. Hundreds of Americans serving abroad have suffered brain injuries from a suspected energy weapon that leaves no trace until now. The Key West connection was an individual was stopped after a high-speed chase a few years ago. When the car was stopped and searched, a Russian passport, bank records, instruments to erase computer data from a car were discovered and there seems to be a link to the Russian government and Russian spies.

Kaufman said, “I wasn’t really surprised by the story, if it is true, because as our federal government is telling us, the director of the FBI, and his counterparts in England and Australia and other Western countries, they’re telling us that Russia is doing this, and China is doing this. It’s a new type of warfare, if you will. The old methods, I guess, are the KGB, sending spies into the other countries. This is what I guess that some international methods are, but I think that probably, it’s an interesting question, but probably South Florida is a is a prime target for sending Russian agents to blend in. We have a large Russian community in South Florida. So I’m not necessarily surprised. That’s not to say, all the Russian speaking folks are spies. But there are probably some, and in the United States, we have to be on alert. I applaud our federal government for doing everything they can to make us aware, and I’m sure they’re doing a lot of countermeasures. There’s a lot of things going on that, that these other governments, they have nefarious ideas of what they’re trying to do.”

A lot of officials aren’t terribly surprised at the news.

Kaufman said, “We have to support our law enforcement, local, state and national, because there are all these things happening that we don’t really know about, and there’s a lot of intelligence that they’re aware of, and our local law enforcement works in partnership with our state, and national law enforcement agencies and our local law enforcement will do everything they can to support the effort in this regard, and in every other way.”

Michael Stapleford of KeysTalk 96.9/102.FM pointed out, “The Key West Police Department, Sean Brandenberg, and his entire team does a wonderful job keeping us safe and keeping criminals accountable. Sheriff Rick Ramsey and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department along with the Florida Highway Patrol, the sheriff’s department does an exceptional job in basically bringing criminals to justice. You can actually see online there is body cam footage now out there of the actual arrest of this supposed Russian agent. You can see the full arrest, but certainly the Monroe County Sheriff’s deputies did a very good job making sure that this person did not get away but was apprehended.”

Kaufman said, “I’m sure we’ll learn a lot more as time goes on and there will be probably other stories similar to this one.”