Water quality, housing and traffic are always on the table for discussion with Monroe County

Even though the holidays are upon us, business still continues in Monroe County.

Holly Merrill Raschein, mayor pro tem for Monroe County, joined Good Morning Keys this week on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM to discuss issues facing the county.

Raschein as mayor pro tem is like a second in command and ready to step in should Mayor Craig Cates have other commitments.

“I am honored to be able to serve alongside him,” she said. “As well as all of my other awesome, esteemed and fellow colleagues on the commission.”

Raschein was also a state representative and certainly understands the legislative agenda for Monroe County.

She said, “We typically have a number of appropriations requests. Funding is always needed. We understand that resources can be scarce, but we are a unique county in that we’re an area of critical state concern.”

Because of that, Raschein helped pass the Florida Keys Stewardship Act when she was in the legislature in 2016.

“That’s continually been a priority of the county,” she said. “That is a bill that aims to fund two important components to our community and that’s land acquisition for conservation, preservation and just to buy up those environmentally sensitive lots that might not need to be developed, but need to be preserved and conserved.”

The second component is water quality.

Raschein continued, “That can mean waste water, which obviously we’re pretty much done with. Storm water. People forget what a pollutant storm water is. One component that was added was canal restoration, so the money should be used for that. If you ask any of our communities around the Keys, water quality is still high on their list and this legislation aims to help fund those projects that clean up our nearshore waters and improve all facets of Keys life, whether it’s recreation, work, our fisheries, the coral reef, you name it, that’s captured in this important piece of legislation.”

The Florida Keys Stewardship Act is not assured every year.

Raschein confirmed, “It’s incumbent upon the appropriation process, which is always an adventure every given year and whether the state coffers are full or we’re sort of going through a downturn. The financial year remains to be seen. Our state just suffered a massive, massive disaster in Hurricane Ian. Obviously we’ve had Hurricane Nicole.”

Inflation and the housing market can also affect this.

Raschein said, “I know that the governor and the legislature, they typically are fantastic when it comes to being fiscally conservative, if you will, and making smart decisions. We just hope that the Keys are considered.”

The Emergency Operations Center in Monroe County did break ground recently, but the project has seen a $6 million short fall due to inflation and supply costs.

Raschein said, “Monroe County is the most hurricane prone county in the state, if not, I would say the nation. Certainly the southeast of the country. I have been working on this, as has our county staff and a number of folks all around the county to get a hard end facility where our team can be safe, we can prepare for the storm, we can weather the storm and then we can recover from the storm. As we all saw from Irma, having to evacuate our emergency management team because their facility is not safe enough is absolutely inexcusable. So we are being proactive, we’re doing something about it. However, all costs have gone up. It doesn’t matter if it’s groceries, gas, construction materials, you name it, and given the size of the facility, the advanced nature of it. There’s all the best bells and whistles on it and something that is going to be a pride of our history.”

Because of inflation, the price tag is higher than anticipated.

Housing is another issue that is always on the minds of residents of the Keys.

Raschein said, “Whether we’re talking about the hospitality industry, first responders, teachers, the grease that makes the wheel of our community turn is hurting right now. Businesses are hurting for employees. The labor shortage is exacerbated by this lack of housing.”

The additional Rate of Growth Ordinance building permits will help with the housing issue.

Raschein said, “There’s some tweaking remaining to be done in terms of our growth management, which is managed by the state of Florida. So that remains to be seen what that language is going to look like. I know that’s part of our agenda we passed that we’re going to monitor the situation. I think that conversation is going to be ongoing and I’m excited to see what the language is going to say.”

House bill 735 discusses local government occupational licensing for contractors and it was passed in 2021.

Raschein said, “I don’t believe that it’s implemented until 2023, but still sometimes legislation is passed and there are unintended consequences. What I’ve heard from our legislative delegation and I know that folks in Tallahassee, like the Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary, she’s heard from a number of other counties that there’s some concerns. I know that our county, Monroe, has gotten together with the contractors, boards, other occupational license holders, heard their concerns.”

Hopefully the bill will either be repealed or changes will be made to not upset the license holders.

Monroe County parks and recreation facilities will also be reviewed.

Raschein said, “I’m excited to see what is to come.”

Transportation is another issue that will be examined.

Raschein said, “Alleviating some of the congestion on our main thoroughfare, US 1. It’s the lifeblood of our community and while we may not be able to move the needle in huge ways, there are projects, whether it’s turn lanes, additional signage, that can help out some of these bottlenecks and hopefully make the roads safer. Our highway patrol and our sheriffs are constantly busy and any time we can make life better, make public safety a priority, I’m all in for that.”