WAIT until you hear how busy our Monroe County representatives have been in Tallahassee

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.

Currently, a group from Monroe County, including Lincoln, is in Tallahassee at the legislative session.

Lincoln said, “We came up a couple of days ago. We had small county coalition meetings the one evening and then yesterday. Mayor Holly Raschein, our legislative affairs director Lisa Tennyson, our county attorney Bob Shillinger and myself, we hit the road hard we had our first meeting of the morning was with our Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez, just to review all of the bills that were pertinent to our county for the year. We then ran over to the governor’s office and met with the Policy and Budgets Committee woman and reviewed our request as always for our Florida Stewardship Fund, which is fully funded in the governor’s budget. So we just wanted to review that with her and also the money that we are requesting for the mooring ball fields in Stock Island Boca Chica. Then we ran out of the capital, ran over to the Department of Professional and Business Regulation building and met with Melanie Griffin, the Secretary and her staff to just review one more time this occupational license bill that was the hiccup from three years ago. This is our third time around trying to get the language correct. I think every year there’s a stumbling block and they just give it a temporary stay until we can try to get the language in a way that suits the governor, suits our contractors locally and statewide. I think maybe this year we have that language correct.”

The group then met with the Chief of Commerce for the citizens.

Lincoln said, “We have such issues with our property insurance. It’s just such a mess, and she acknowledges it and we are just trying to come up with some ways to give some relief to our residents here in the Florida Keys. We left that meeting and went over to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, where we have such an excellent working relationship, you know here in in Monroe County, we all love Captain David Dipre, but we have some major issues with that we need their support with and they need our support. The derelict vessels that every time you look out, there’s more derelict vessels in the water, and we just need to come up with a way to ease the process. Our marine resource department and FWC worked really well together to identify these boats to try to get them out of the water and we’re trying to come up with a process that maybe will do it and get reimbursed later. We think that might be a solution. We also discussed the artificial reef program that we’re super excited about. We briefly discussed the Key deer in Big Pine and the Save Our Key Deer organization in Big Pine has a suggestion on a rehab facility. We kind of started that conversation with FWC. That would be more of the federal agencies, but we want their blessing and head nod as well.”

From there, the group met with Representative Mooney and at the end of the day, the Department of Commerce.

Lincoln said, “To discuss the hurricane evacuation modeling, to let them know that everyone in the Keys is in consensus with Key West being included in the 24 hour evacuation model, and that we’re all in consensus with the trailers remaining in phase one for evacuation. We asked them to please give us this next year for us to have robust conversations with our residents, with our stakeholders, and with all of the municipalities so that we can come up with what we all feel would be a good solution for all of the different scenarios they presented to us.”

What are the big issues we’re watching?

Lincoln said, “We have our one bill that we’re kind of lumping all together, six different points on it, all to do with housing for the Florida Keys. That I would say is our number one priority, on top of getting our Stewardship funds. I mean, that’s always our number one priority. But the advancement for affordable workforce housing efforts, I would say would be our number two, and it’s pretty robust. It starts out with being able to use that one time surplus of the tourist development tax funds for workforce housing. We crafted some language that the Department of Lodging and the Hotel Association have all agreed that they won’t oppose, which is huge, which means I think we can get this ask which would be humongous for our community to receive that $25 million of surplus and be able to apply it for local workforce housing, that has to do with the tourist development sector. So that is put together with this bill also authorizing local governments to provide an ad valorem property tax relief to owners of privately owned properties that they rent for workforce housing, and also a request to increase the local funding for affordable home ownership. This sort of that project in Key West, where part of it’s workforce housing rental, but part of it’s ownership and not to require the county every year to review the income of the home owners, because once they buy that home, they’ve qualified for that affordable housing rate. They’re in that pool, but then not to every year because if they’re owning a home to still require them to be at that same income level. However, when they sell the house, it would then have to go back into whatever the income levels are at that time. If you’re scratching your head, please call me. I’ll take a few extra minutes and explain it to you.”

There were also negotiations with the Restaurant Association.

Lincoln explained, “There was concern in other counties throughout the state that we were going to open up the Florida State statute and tweak it in order for us to receive this $25 million and they were very concerned about that and I can understand. So we were trying to explain to them this is a one time deal and it’s only because we had underestimated the amount of revenue we would be bringing in during COVID. As you remember, we were packed. So our tourist development tax came in significantly higher and it was not utilized in the budget because it wasn’t budgeted and it’s been sitting in this pot all by itself. So it did not affect our advertising. It didn’t affect our special events. It didn’t affect our capital improvements. It did not negatively impact any of those buckets of money that the Tourist Development Council utilizes and it’s just been sitting there. At the time, it was Mayor Craig Cates because the mayor always sits on the TDC board. He saw that there was this excess funds and he came back to the commissioners and said, hey, why don’t we try to see if we can’t use this? At first, we thought we could use it in a different category of uses, but the state said no, it didn’t meet the requirements under the Florida State statutes. So what we were able to do is, because we are the only county in the state of Florida, that’s an area of critical state concern that also has an impact tax, a tourist impact tax, that we were just going to be able to flow these funds from our tourist development pot and put them in our tourist impact tax pot with a one time use of these funds for workforce housing projects that meet the requirements of the people living in it being in the tourist industry. So that didn’t open up that Florida Statute, and it is a pass through. That is the reason why the industry was able to say all right, no other county is going to be able to come to us. We’ve kept the integrity of the statute in place, and we’re going to see that yes, Monroe County is special. Yes, they do have a huge need for quality workforce housing for the tourist driven economy employees and this is a one time use of this surplus fund.”

Another issue could be the permits needed for workforce housing.

Lincoln said, “I know that our number that we have in the county is kind of liquid, it’s fluid, it moves. We earmark it, we give reservations of some of the units to different developers as they come to us with projects but then if that date gets expired, and they didn’t quite get their funding together and the project didn’t really take place, then those units come back into our pool of affordables. Off the top of my head I don’t know how many we have right now. I don’t know how many Islamorada might be storing right now. This $25 million can be used wherever in the county and unincorporated areas that have a project that have their ROGOs, have those affordable units available to them. As we drill down and have meetings with the municipalities and our stake holders to determine what we’re going to do with the different scenarios that were offered to us with maybe extra units, and definitely the priority for any of those units would be workforce housing. We’ll see. This will be kind of fun to watch in the next year or so what we decide to do as a community.”

It looks like the judicial consolidation is no longer a worry.

Lincoln said, “That is dead. That is DOA. That’s not even going to be heard here. It’s so good when our county can all agree, we really can make big differences. You’ve got to love it.”

Next week is Florida Keys Days in Tallahassee.

Lincoln said, “So I hope to see a lot of our different stakeholders appear next week with me.”