MARATHON, FL – At Monroe County’s first public budget meeting for Fiscal Year 2018 on Wednesday, the Board of County Commissioners was presented with a very preliminary proposed budget that funds the rising costs to maintain the County’s upgraded community parks and facilities, and day-to-day operations – and also provides enhanced County services and more resources to stop illegal vacation rentals.
The proposed budget, which would levy $87.9 million in ad valorem (property) taxes, is only a modest increase over last year – about $16 on a home with a taxable value of $300,000.
It would be only the third increase in the past nine years and would keep Monroe County’s millage rate among the lowest in the state.
“While your every day bills have gone up, so have the County’s,” Roman Gastesi said. “We have worked long hours on this budget to find the right balance that enables us to fund our rising costs, meet our state-mandated responsibilities and provides our residents and visitors with the services that maintain and enhance our quality of life in the Keys.”
The proposed budget presented Wednesday at the Marathon Government Center is the starting point and the maximum budget in a months-long process, which includes four more public meetings and concludes in September.
The County Commissioners were provided with several budget discussion items to consider. These included:
- The purchase and required additional staff of a third life-saving Trauma Star helicopter;
- Three new positions to stop the illegal vacation rentals that are wreaking havoc on neighborhoods and the affordable housing crisis;
- One new position for an emergency management planner and emergency satellite communications;
- Additional Electronic databases and other enhancements for the five library branches;
- Preservation of the Library System’s valuable Florida history collection;
- Expansion of the land acquisition program;
- What to do about the escalating costs of health care for County employees;
- Continuation of the performance-based merit program for employees
The proposed budget has funding to account for the $2 million in additional costs for facility maintenance and vehicle replacement in FY18. These costs include:
- $667,000 in higher water bills due to connecting to the advanced wastewater system;
- $360,000 to maintain 32,500 additional square footage for the new Marathon Library, Cudjoe Fire Station, Magnolia Public Works building and Crawl Key Fire Training Academy;
- $235,000 for the vehicle replacement program;
- $105,000 for the completion of three new parks: Bernstein Park and Community Center on Stock Island; the Big Pine Key Swimming Hole and related structures; and Rowell’s Waterfront Park in Key Largo.
All five Commissioners asked detailed questions about aspects of the very preliminary proposed budget, seeking ways to find savings for taxpayers. Commissioner Danny Kolhage said: “You only want in a budget what you need and it will be up to this Commission to determine that.”
Mayor George Neugent added: “I think we’ve done an excellent job, since Roman has been here, of keeping the costs of our operations down. … While we have high property values, our cost of operations is a big part of having he lowest millage rate in the state of Florida.”
The County’s entire budget cannot be completed until the budgets for the Constitutional Offices are received on June 1. On July 1, the Property Appraiser will certify property values in the County. By July 11, the tentative budget is delivered to the Board of County Commissioners.
On July 25, the Commission will certify a proposed millage rate during another special budget meeting at 10 a.m. at the Harvey Government Center.
The final part of the process occurs in September with three public meetings or hearings:
- Sept. 5: Murray Nelson Government Center, Key Largo, 5:05 p.m. The first public hearing and adoption of the tentative budget and millage rate.
- Sept. 7: Marathon Government Center, 5:05 p.m. A special budget meeting, which is not required but done as a public service.
- Sept. 11: Harvey Government Center in Key West, 5:05 p.m. Final public hearing and adoption of the final budget and millage rate.