What would it mean if Monroe County would become a charter county?

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.

A recent discussion talked about the possibility of Monroe County becoming a charter form of government.

Lincoln said, “It was a wonderful discussion. I really do appreciate our staff for bringing us all the pros and the cons, what all our options are on if we did want to become a charter and then I really appreciate the other commissioners for us to have a discussion and debate on whether we want to give staff the head nod to move forward with the next step.”

There are two forms of counties – one is charter county and the other is a non-charter county.

Monroe County is currently a non-charter county, which means all the requirements and rules set forth in the Florida constitution and statutes are followed for the structure.

Lincoln said, “If we became a charter county, we could then create some different types of rules and not always have to be under the thumb or under the rule of the Florida legislature.”

As an example for the past four years, the commissioners have unanimously supported approaching the Florida legislature asking for permission to put a referendum vote out to levy an additional sales surtax to be used specifically for road improvements and transportation.

Lincoln said, “For at least four years now, the Florida legislature has had zero appetite in allowing us to do this. So it’s not even that we’re saying we’re going to implement this tax without public input. What we’re asking permission for was to ask our residents, to ask our voters what they would want to do. Without that ability, it’s really handcuffing us when we look at all of the road elevations that we have that exceed $2 billion that doesn’t even include the municipalities. If we included theirs, it’s $3.67 billion. While we are doing an aggressive and wonderful job with getting grants from the state and from our federal partners, the majority of those are matching grants.”

That means if the grant provides $22 million, the county has to come up with the same.

Lincoln said, “Right now we have some projects that we’re ready to go, we just don’t have the $22 million. If we could become a charter, then we could then ask in a referendum for this sales tax. It wouldn’t be saying it would be giving the commissioners this broad brush where we can then impose all of these taxes. It would still have to involve all of our residents to weigh in on it.”

There are several ways to go about this. The commissioners could come up with what the charter would look like.

Lincoln said, “And just start it out slowly that way. You’ll definitely be hearing a lot more about this. We’ll have some workshops, more than one, at least two public hearings on it. Then if we agree to come up with something that would go on the ballot, it would go on the November 2024 election, which is a presidential election, which usually has the highest input of voters, which is what we want. It would be very specific. I know there are many options out there.”

One issue on becoming a charter county could include preempting city ordinances.

Lincoln assured, “We have no appetite for that. Absolutely zero appetite to take any control away from our five municipalities. They all became their own charter city, their own municipality for very specific reasons and we honor that. We don’t like it when Tallahassee preempts us as a county and we’re not going to do that to our municipalities.”

It would likely be a very streamlined charter.

Lincoln said, “It would just be to add a municipal utility tax that we are not allowed to do as a non-chartered county.”

A lot of the funding from a municipal sales tax would come from the tourists.

Lincoln said, “During the pandemic, we saw a reduction in our sales tax by 65 percent. We realized that if we had additional transportation surtax, it would be paid for 65 percent by tourists. There’s not a single commissioner on right now who has an appetite for increasing an ad valorem tax, which is completely on the backs of our property owners. The sales tax gets spread out. Our tourists use our roads and put a burden on our infrastructure, so this seems a fair way of helping out with what we know we need to do. We’re meeting this head-on.”

A celebration for the bicentennial on the restored Old Seven Mile Bridge will be held tomorrow.

Lincoln said, “I’m extremely excited about this, living right here where I live right at the base of the bridge and being a part of Marathon City Council during the years when this bridge was closed and we were doing the renovations and now that it’s open, I just love it.”