The Key West City Commission agenda for Thursday is jam packed

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

This week’s City Commission meeting has a jam packed schedule.

Kaufman said, “The meeting is Thursday. 9am is the morning session and 5pm the evening session and as always in city to the Commission chambers at 1300 White Street in Key West. I appreciate the fact that city staff can have more time doing actual work, and preparing for meetings and doing the business of the city, without scrambling every two weeks to do an extra meeting. We used to have two meetings per month, and now it’s just one longer meeting once a month, and it seems to be more productive for staff and more efficient.”

The Lower Keys Medical Center lease expires in less than five years and the task force to work on that recently sent a letter to the Lower Keys Hospital District board.

Kaufman said, “We have a task force that is advising myself as the vice mayor and we have nine members on a task force. There’s 26 people additionally, participating as advisors to that task force, mostly medical professionals, business professionals, and those with experience in the hospital administration. A lot of talented people here in Key West. Basically the letter is showing support to the Lower Keys Hospital District Board, telling them that the task force wants to support their efforts in their selection process for the next operator of the hospital, which is so important to ensure the future for us having the best potential medical care for our community. And basically asking them to update the community at their next meeting, which is in August. We want to know basically the status and whether or not they plan to hire a consultant for the process, which is very complicated, actually, in terms of meeting all the needs of our community and things like insurance, making sure things are covered, etc. The other most important thing as far as the task force was concerned is really wanting an update about restoration of cancer treatment in Key West. Such a critical issue and an urgent issue. So that was basically the purpose of the letter.”

Will the selection process take the entire five years leading up to the expiration of the lease or has the district board given any indication as to when they may be prepared to make a decision?

Kaufman said, “I think it’s fair to say, and for those familiar with these types of selection processes, it’s a long process just to form the request for production and draft it and to have all the components of what is really being sought. Just the application process could take one to two years. Then remember, it could take one to two years just for a transfer of operations. So it’s really important that this process is started now. I think those that are involved in the conversations that we’re having realize that, and so I think the timeline is not specified. But right now really is the time when all the participants and by the way, we have a really good Lower Keys Hospital District board membership. The governor just appointed three additional members, and reappointed five of the six members that we had before. So we have a very strong Lower Keys Hospital District board with locals sitting on that. So we’re in good shape. It’s just a lot of work that needs to be undertaken and with public input to be sure that that application process really meets all the needs for our community.”

What is the makeup of the board?

Kaufman said, “Vive of the six board members that were reappointed have been on the Lower Keys Hospital District board for many years. I think one member served 27 years, something like that. The governor appointed three new members, all with strong local backgrounds. I was very happy to see those names myself, because these are local people that have very strong interests, like we all do, in being sure that our families and our working people and our tourists and everybody can rely on our hospital long term for the medical needs that we have. So I think the governor did very well in his selection. These are all known people, active people with strong ties to our community. I think we’re going to have really good results. It’s more about participating in this process for me, at this point. I’m no expert in this transition of hospital leadership or operations. So that that is not my expertise. I know that there are experts in this and it is quite complex in terms of insurance reimbursement, which drives a lot of the funding mechanism for hospitals. So there’s that aspect and equipment, and so on. But, the operator of the hospital now is doing a good job. Lots of people have good experiences with the staff and the operations in the hospital now. So that’s not really a question for the Lower Keys Hospital District board. It’s more about which operator can bring the best in terms of the financial resources to redevelop first of all, the hospital. It needs to be modernized, it probably needs to be torn down and rebuilt, and to provide all of the infrastructure for radiology, cancer treatment, first class cardiac care, things that we know we need in the future, and that the experts in this in this area, who know what a hospital of our size and makeup can provide, and which operator is going to provide that for the future, and also keep our residents here as much as possible and not transfer them out to hospitals in the mainland, as much as possible and within reason.”

What is Kaufman’s role in the district board?

He said, “I just took this initiative on my own, sort of to try to break through some of the red tape. In order to create a city board, you have to have lots of bureaucracy involved and I come from the private sector. In the private sector, we do things a lot quicker than governments can do. So I just decided that in this particular case, I did not want to wait for the city to approve a new committee and then require the clerk’s and the city attorney and all of the bureaucracy that is mandated by an official City Board. So it is not an official City Board. It is just advisory committee to me as the vice mayor, but that was by design.”

The rental fees at Garrison Bight Marina had been postponed recently.

Kaufman said, “I think it needs more work in review and also we have an election coming up in a couple of months, which is exciting. We will have a new commission. I’m very sad and sorry to see four of my colleagues leave the commission. It’s been a great run for us and working together so well over these past many years. But because we have a new commission, there are some big decisions that are being made just not with regard to the city Marina Garrison Bight, but in other in other circumstances. It’s probably a good idea at this juncture because it’s just a couple of months until the new commission is appointed. That’s one good reason probably to have the input from the new commissioners. But also, with regard to the city marina, these issues have been talked about for many years and happens to be within the district from where I am elected in District II and I would just say I think that we can all come to a reasonable conclusion and work together towards something that everybody can ultimately, at least accept to live with and if not, agree with. I think we may need some more time to work and we will have a public workshop at the end of June in City Hall for the residents and the public to review not just the rate structure at City Marina, but just all these issues.”

The agenda for Thursday is quite meaty.

Kaufman said, “What it shows you I think, is how hard city staff works, because each of those items have to be vetted, produced and prepared by city staff members. That’s another reason why I think having one meeting a month really helps, because you could see if you wade through that agenda and look at the backup materials, how much work really goes into these.”

The bond issue will also be discussed.

Kaufman said, “I would call myself a moderate on most things, and this issue in particular, and that is, look, we really need funding to rebuild the fire station on Kennedy Drive. I mean, it is highest of highest priority. We need money to rebuild and redevelop the Martin Luther King historic pool. I mean, these things are in the tens of millions of dollars and I sat through budget processes for the last 10 years. I could tell the public, there just is not the funding for these projects. We need some funding, whether it’s, the $40 million or $50 million on this side, or $60 million or $70 million on that side. But there’s just a ton of projects. Look at New Town, for example, there’s a ton of streets without sidewalks. We need sidewalks, we need to repave our streets. We have responsibilities as stewards of our infrastructure. The estimate is $800 million of city assets, city facilities. Whether it’s $300 million, or $50 million, or whatever, we need some funding. That’s really what I’m crying out for is that I don’t want to see another year go by, and us not having a distinct, specific, doable plan for that fire station and for the Martin Luther King pool and for all the other essential projects that we have to accomplish.”

Are there any other sources of funds that may be available other than a bond being approved by referendum?

Kaufman said, “Think of the bond as a line of credit, okay, like you have your house, you have your line of credit, you don’t necessarily want to use your line of credit. So we don’t want to use the bond money if we don’t have to. Think of it as a last resort. So yes, just because a bond is approved, doesn’t mean that the money will be utilized or acquired. It’s just it’s having access to that money. Think of it this way, what if, God forbid, what if there is a Category 5 storm that hits? What is Plan B for rebuilding? Are we going to rely entirely on the United States government and the state of Florida to rebuild or will we need to have a pot of money that we can dip into? We have to think of these things as stewards of our infrastructure. I’m okay with compromise. I just want to have a plan. I think we have to have a plan and if the compromise is that we need a supermajority on the City Commission to actually access the money, I’m fine with that. That’s reasonable. That could be language that’s inserted into the bond measure that could help folks feel more comfortable about it. I’m okay with any compromises, I just want to see a plan that we have and we’re not kicking that can down the road. These are very, very important projects that we just don’t have funding for. Yes, we will aggressively and actively try to find grants and other things, but it’s just not realistic to expect the state of Florida to fund an entire new fire station or the pool or the sidewalk. That’s not realistic.”

Ultimately it will go to referendum to the public, and the people will be the final arbiter.

Kaufman said, “If these measures fail, again, I’m a moderate on these things. Regardless, we need to have a plan. If they fail, I could tell you, I’ll be the first one to say we need to go back to the public, at least for the fire station, at least for the Martin Luther King pool, at least for these targeted, essential things and make our case, because we can’t allow another year or two to go by without a plan. That’s just not fair to our firemen and women. It’s not fair to the public. The fire station’s been on the books for at least 12 years. That’s not reasonable.”

The City Commission by resolution is committing $12.8 million of land authority funding for two projects in the Poinciana housing community.

Kaufman said, “I think it’s really important. It’s showing a commitment to affordable housing and that this commission is saying that we want the bed tax money to go for these two projects. One is a project by the housing authority, and one is a city project. I think that’s a really important item and I hope that there’s support in the community. We’ve had many, many community meetings in that part of town, in New Town. I’m excited to see these projects move forward.”

For Thursday’s agenda, click here:|&Search=