Highlights from this Week’s Monroe County Board of County Commissioners Meeting in Key Largo

KEY LARGO, FL – The Monroe County Board of County Commissioners met Wednesday at the Murray Nelson Government and Cultural Center in Key Largo for their last monthly meeting of 2017. Here are some of the highlights:

Approved Post-Irma Workforce Housing Plan:

The BOCC voted 5-0 to approve a post-Irma workforce housing plan that requests funding and support from the State of Florida.

The goal is to secure land, funding and regulatory incentives to develop 300 to 400 new units of affordable and workforce housing for residents with incomes averaging 60 percent of the Area Median Income in 2018.

The housing plan, spearheaded by Commissioner Heather Carruthers, offers a set of recommendations for what can be practically accomplished in the next two years to address the immediate need for the rebuilding of affordable/workforce housing in the Florida Keys.

At the November BOCC Special Meeting on Housing Recovery Strategies, preliminary damage assessment results were presented that show 4,156 structures throughout Monroe County were either destroyed or suffered major damage due to Hurricane Irma. These numbers do not include a full accounting of lost mobile homes which served as full-time residences.

The County is requesting from the State of Florida:

  • $30 million in State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL) funding to match with Low Income Housing Tax Credits
  • $4 million in housing tax credits from the Florida Housing Finance Corporation (FHFC) to use with SAIL funding
  • $20 million in additional funds for Monroe County to help purchase trailer park properties and other sites for affordable housing
  • Authorize the Monroe County Land Authority with the flexibility to utilize its funds for the construction and development of affordable housing
  • Dedicate one of the two currently unutilized Tourist Development Tax pennies for affordable housing – limiting this use for a two-year period

“It is essential to move quickly to take advantage of funding opportunities for affordable and workforce housing [that may be available due to Hurricane Irma],” Carruthers said. “If we don’t, we’re going to lose the people that make this community work. We’re already doing that.”

Approved Negotiating a Contract for Canal Skimming Demonstration Project:

The BOCC approved allowing County staff to negotiate a contract not to exceed $100,000 for a demonstration project for skimming floating debris in Key Largo canals and then hauling it to the mainland. Funds are coming from an air curtain project that was not done due to Hurricane Irma.

This project is not for hurricane debris removal, but only for floating debris such as sea grass, sea weed and other minor floating debris.

Canal skimming has been successful in improving water quality in other South Florida communities and could offer the County a potentially more economical alternative to weed gate air curtain systems the County has tried in other demonstration projects.

Marine Debris Removal Update

The County received a second draft on Dec. 12 of a no-cost Memorandum of Understanding and Mutual Aid Agreement with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for clearing vessels and hurricane debris in navigable waterways and canals within unincorporated Monroe County.

County staff told the Commission the agreement is close to being signed by all three parties. When that happens, the state’s contractor DRC Environmental Services will be able to begin removing the marine debris. The agreement can be signed by Monroe County Mayor David Rice at any time, and ratified at a later BOCC meeting.

Approved Lease Agreement with Fishermen’s Community Hospital:

The BOCC approved a lease agreement with Fishermen’s Community Hospital in Marathon for $1 per year for the construction of a temporary hospital facility at the Florida Keys Marathon International Airport.

Currently, Fishermen’s Hospital is using a temporary medical facility in its parking lot due to storm damage to the permanent building. While Fishermen’s Hospital would prefer to stay onsite, repairs and renovations to the permanent building could require use of its entire site for staging and construction management.

The temporary hospital facility would not disrupt any airport operations, or cause any safety issues, said T.J. Henderson, director of the Marathon airport.

Continued Discussion on Proposed Ordinance to Require Use of Specific Roof Materials Due to Hurricane Irma Impacts:

The BOCC held a second public hearing to consider adoption of an ordinance that amends the Monroe County Code to require the use of specific roof materials and construction for repairs, replacement and new construction due to the impacts evidenced following Hurricane Irma.

At today’s meeting, the BOCC voted to continue the discussion for another month in order to hear from a roofing expert and gather more information.

BOCC approved a new and more reliable phone system for County Employees and the Keys’ Constitutional Offices for everyday use and in times of emergency:

The County was working on steps to put in place a modern and more resilient phone system when Hurricane Irma struck. The main phone switch of the current 20-year-old system is located in a building in Key West, where power and air conditioning issues caused major communication problems during the emergency response.

The new phone system will provide Monroe County BOCC and Constitutional Officer employees with significantly increased functionality.

Additionally, the County has designed a solution which uses multiple technologies to make the new system as capable as possible of surviving a Hurricane strike. The phone switch will reside in the County’s primary data center (a hardened facility in Miami Dade), with a backup in Phoenix, Arizona.

The County also will make use of analog phone lines at four key locations (Murray Nelson Government Center, Plantation Key Complex, Marathon Government Center and the Key West Whitehead Complex).

Combining modern VOIP technology capable of utilizing any type of internet solution (satellite, fiber, cable, DSL) with traditional analog service provides the County with a more effective and resilient communications platform.

Directed County Staff to Investigate the Viability of a Proposed Sugarloaf Communication Tower:

The BOCC also discussed how a proposed Sugarloaf Communication Tower could aid the County with better emergency communication during the aftermath of hurricanes. The BOCC directed County staff to investigate the feasibility of such a tower.

Approved Resolution to Oppose the Decertification of any Monroe County Court Judgeships:

The BOCC approved a resolution that opposes the decertification of any Monroe County Court judgeships. On Nov. 22, 2017, the Florida Supreme Court recommended the “decertification” of one of Monroe County’s four county court judgeships, along with five other county court judgeships in other counties.

But the Supreme Court held off on decertifying a second Monroe County Court Judgeship due to the “impact of Hurricane Irma … and the uncertainties related to litigation expected to occur in its aftermath.”

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