As we enter a milestone year for Monroe County in 2023, our commissioners and staff continue to enhance the quality of the lives of our citizens, business owners, and visitors. I am honored to serve as Monroe County Administrator for the past 14.5 years, and I am proud of the remarkable accomplishments of our commissioners and 623 part-time and full-time employees in 2022.
Since the creation of Monroe County on July 3, 1823, transportation and the environment have been at the forefront of our citizen’s minds, and it still rings true today. This year, the County hired a transit director with a three-year plan to work with the municipalities on transportation woes throughout the Florida Keys. With resident participation, Planning and Environmental Services submitted the top transportation priorities to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), with many of the ideas incorporated into FDOT’s five-year work plan.
The Sustainability Office and our commissioners continue to lead the country in climate change and sea-level rise adaptation conversations. The recently completed Roads Elevation Study came in with a $1.6 billion price tag for County-maintained road adaptations subject to sea-level rise by 2045. With Legislative Affairs’ successful utilization of our lobbyists and close collaboration with our state and federal delegation, several ‘big-picture’ long-term projects were approved. For example, Congress recently approved authorization and initial funding of a $2.6 billion U.S. Army Corps of Engineers program in the Florida Keys to improve resiliency by reducing damage and risk from impacts of storms and guard against potential damage from sea-level rise.
With the help of Other People’s Money, as I like to say, we will continue to chase grants and other funding sources. This year we secured $30 million in state and federal appropriations and numerous additional grants for water quality, bridge replacements, and storm risk mitigation. We will continue to push forward with canal restoration efforts, supporting the health of our nearshore waters. Code Compliance reached an 80 percent connection rate to the central sewer system, with hopes to have all of unincorporated Monroe County hooked up in the next 18 months – another giant leap toward improved water quality in the Florida Keys. Passage of the federal coral reef protection bill authorizing $45 million in annual funding bill caps off our environmental successes this year.
Budget and Finance produced the $519.7 million FY23 budget, which boasts the lowest property tax rate in Florida for another year. Key West International Airport broke ground on a new concourse project that will improve service to the more than one million passengers who pass through the terminal. Project Management completed the Plantation Key Courthouse and Detention Center, the Pine Channel Nature Park, and repaired many of the County’s properties damaged in previous storms. Parks and Beaches, a relatively new department, is outfitting beaches with mobility mats and sand wheelchairs and adding accessible swings at playgrounds, taking us one step closer to making recreational opportunities truly for everyone. The Permitting Department successfully implemented an all-online permitting system earlier this year, creating a more streamlined process.
To make the community safer, the new Emergency Operations Center in Marathon will be home to Emergency Management, Fire Rescue headquarters, and the Sheriff’s Office dispatch center. Emergency Management activated for two storms in 2022, and 18 of our firefighters, our Public Information Officer, and I deployed to help our northern neighbors in DeSoto County after Hurricane Ian. Engineering and Roads focused on completing bridge projects and significant road improvements in Key West and throughout the County. Monroe County Fire Rescue’s Trauma Star provided a record number of lifesaving flights to the mainland while transporting our residents with no out-of-pocket costs. The fifth “Hot Shots” firefighter training class graduated – a program that waives tuition for residents. Unincorporated Monroe County continues to hold on to one of the best ratings in the Community Rating System, saving flood insurance policyholders millions of dollars annually in the Florida Keys.
Solid Waste championed a “Put a Lid On It” event in endangered Key Deer areas, and staff collected approximately 1.8 million pounds of locally produced debris in three weeks by Ian. Strategic Planning gathered new information on community priorities to incorporate into a refreshed 2023 strategic plan. Veterans Affairs secured more than $5 million in annual disability payments for local Veterans, and Social Services and Guardian ad Litem advocated for our most vulnerable residents, from our youngest to our oldest. For those with a green thumb, the Extension Service guided residents in learning about local flora, fauna, and other vital Florida Keys resources. And for the bookworms and knowledge seekers, the Library System implemented a $1 million grant and added cutting-edge technology to the five branches.
The Fleet Department received Blue Star awards for its high standards in maintaining County vehicles. Facilities Maintenance worked to preserve and protect the County’s property and building assets. Employee Services enhanced employee well-being and safety while recruiting to fill positions in a challenging work environment. Information Technology continues to seamlessly support county operations with network, phone, server, MCTV, and applications. The County Attorney’s Office handled a number of matters, including successfully litigating a case with nationwide implications that protected the security and integrity of the County’s voting equipment.
As we celebrate 2023 with special 200-year touches, Monroe County is committed to creating a better life, every day, for everyone in the Florida Keys. We will continue to have open and courageous communication about our past, present, and future, and we will strive to make our island home a safe and enjoyable place to live, work, and play.
Cheers in paradise,
Monroe County Administrator
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