The city of Marathon continues to work on homelessness and flooding issues

George Garrett, City Manager in Marathon, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM yesterday morning to talk about what’s been going on in the city.

Homelessness has been a recent topic of discussion.

Garrett said, “We’ve got an encampment on 20th Street here in Marathon now, which essentially, we support. There are some things that we still need to discuss and talk about internally just to manage that a little better, and make sure that it’s safe. There aren’t any issues arising there we can’t deal with. The other one that’s out there is we’ve created a bus stop at roughly Kmart. That was a really good idea. I think it’s something we wanted to do. It certainly serves the part of the public that is using the buses all the time. The flip side of it is it’s almost unusable because it’s become just one of those hangouts. Literally, I get pictures almost every day of people sleeping on the ground there. They’ve got things draped over all of our, I’m going to say furniture, but the areas that you would sit while waiting at the bus stop. So one of the decisions last night, in fact was leave the bus stop there. It’s got a tiki hut right now which kind of shades or keeps sun and rain off of you and we’re going to end up removing that, simply to hopefully alleviate the issues that seem to be arising there. Continuing problem everywhere. But that’s sort of what we’re dealing with here.”

City council made an amendment to the Marlin Bay agreement.

Garrett said, “That’s a long standing project that really has never completely developed out. But there was an amendment to their agreement last night that would sort of hopefully get that project a little bit more on track and see some results in terms of development there. We also had an ordinance, the ability to frankly give our sheriff’s department a little bit more authority to trespass people on our parks and those sort of public spaces that are drunken, or drinking alcohol. Obviously, if somebody has beer, that’s one thing. If somebody’s drunk and disorderly, that’s another. So it would give them a little bit more authority ultimately, to trespass somebody off of our parks properties, particularly where there’s kids around. There would be obviously an appeal process of any decision like that, for the person that was cited and told to leave, but it’s just become enough of a problem, sort of the mix of people drinking too much, too much and then kids playing baseball and soccer.”

Two settlement agreements were also on the agenda.

Garrett said, “Rather than going into detail, I’ll simply say that those settlement agreements are coming out of what some may know as the Boatworks appeals that had gone on for a couple of years and a project on the bay side of Marathon. Really a conundrum one way or the other, but it’s finally coming to settlement. Good for those people that have a settlement comment and good to see the whole issue sort of settle down. Last council agenda, we’ve had an ongoing lawsuit with FOLKS, Friends of the Lower Keys. I don’t know that we necessarily came to agreement, but we did come to settlement. I want to say there’s a distinction there, but it ultimately is moot. The bottom line is they were suing the city of Marathon over the issue of us using shallow wells to dispose of our sewage effluent, all legally, all permitted. But the concern was that even as legally permitted, there was the potential of still some nutrients getting to the near shore and affecting our nearshore environment. We ultimately agreed that we would go to a deep well, which as opposed to 100, 120 feet of disposal depth, we would go to something on the order of 3300, 3500 feet. So that would solve a lot of problems. The issue now becomes we’ve got a settlement. We think it’s something that over a 20 year period plus or minus the financing, we can actually afford to do. We are certainly going to be seeking every possibility to obtain grant funds. Not cheap. Because ultimately what happens is we’ve got to connect all five of our wastewater plants to essentially one pipe which would then go to a place where we would then inject that effluent down a deep well. It’s a process. The settlement is a five year settlement. It runs over a five year period. We will have to be reporting back to FOLKS on a regular basis to let them know what our progress is but the big thing in front of me for the next year and some would be on the one hand seeing our utilities and engineers working on the actual design of the system, and then secondarily getting the money to pay for it. So going to the legislature and going to Congress will be part of my job over the next couple of years.”

The hurricane evacuation model was also discussed.

Garrett said, “First of all, I think the city and the county are in entire agreement with what the county has proposed, and in fact, there’s legislative action on already. That is to confirm that in our hurricane evacuation modeling effort, Key West is absolutely a part of it. I don’t believe that there was any question amongst any of us here or even most state agencies, but without going into details, there was a question about that, a confusion about it. So part of their legislative suggestion would be to insert language that says yes, Key West is a part of hurricane evacuation. The other part is that hurricane evacuation deals with permanent population and one of the suggestions is that for a couple of reasons, you would move the mobile home permanent population into the first 24 hours of our evacuation time, which is a 48 hour evacuation period during a hurricane and that 24 hours is not counted in evacuation, because there’s people would have already been gone. So bottom line is it does improve our evacuation times mathematically, but in fact, that population would be gone. So it’s a correct determination. Most importantly, doing that actually puts us in compliance with state statutes for hurricane evacuation time. Now, all of that said, different than the county, the county has not wanted to deal with the issue of how ROGO, Rate of Growth Ordinance or BPAS, the building permit allocation system fits into all of that. They would prefer deliberating for a year. The city of Marathon has made a resolution very, very similar to theirs, but has said that we need to be dealing with this issue this year and in this session, and that’s going to be my job to deal with.”

Is it realistic to expect some action?

Garrett said, “I honestly don’t know. I mean, the one thing I would say and our resolution makes it very clear that we are collaborative. I am personally that person, that individual, I believe in cooperation and collaboration. But we may have some differing opinions here. I am going to be working to meet with our local representatives, as in probably city managers, and perhaps mayors and attorneys in the next week or so. But we may end up in some differences in how we would approach this and whether we can get something in legislation this year, as the county has already started to propose with the cooperation or collaboration of the other governments, we’ll see. Whether we can actually get something out of it, we’ll also see. But the bottom line for me is honestly as I sit and represent the city of marathon, as we believe we have significant takings liabilities even today and we will be working on it this session. If nothing else happens, the discussion will start through us, through the city of Marathon.”

The county becoming a charter government is also a big discussion.

Garrett said, “If I take the suspicious approach, obviously, two local governments including mine have become incorporated in the last 25 years, because of concerns about control that the county had over those communities. So we’re very happy with their local government configurations. I think when you do something that like the county is proposing as a charter government that concern is, and it’s a legitimate concern, that potentially they usurp powers that the local governments have, as it stands today. I think the other side of the equation, I think, Bob Shillinger, and frankly, the entire county commissioners made it very clear and I think have done a very good job, an excellent job of communicating to the local governments, that it’s not their intent to usurp any authority that the local governments currently have. It’s their intent to get the taxing power, honestly, that being a charter government has. I would argue in their favor in that sense. First of all, no more new taxes. But the flip side of that is, we’ve got at least two if not three, taxing mechanisms within the county currently, then when you look at how those taxes are collected, and where, or who become the primary providers of that tax, those tax dollars, it ends up being the tourists. In this case, the taxing power that the county would potentially tap into, would in fact, be funded largely by our tourist population. We know typically, I know the school has such a situation or a couple others for their capital infrastructure and bottom line is about 65% of the taxes that go into those are coming from tourists. So we have great schools for a reason. Great school buildings for a reason, because, frankly, the tourists that visit us pay for that.”

A project funded through a Florida Commerce grant will begin looking at the intersection at Banana Avenue in Grassy Key.

Garrett said, “That project is part of the development of Valhalla, which is a Bass Pro project. It’s kind of the start of what I see happening in that development, in that project. It’s grant funded entirely. We will begin to see that project happen in this year. We’re moving forward on a project on Sombrero Boulevard, which is, you know, lake Sombrero, Boulevard. That project will eliminate the lake that we see happening with these are very strange El Nino storms we’ve been getting this year.”