A psychologist who moved to the Keys in 1973 to serve as the first executive director of the Middle Keys Guidance Clinic was tapped to serve as the new mayor of Monroe County. Rice first served as Monroe County Commissioner from 2002-2006 and was elected to his second term in 2010. He lives in Marathon with his wife, Mary.
One of your first orders of business was to ask your fellow commissioners to develop an agenda of initiatives. What are items A & B of your agenda for 2012?
Obviously, number one has to be wastewater funding. Number 2 is close to my heart. I have been working cooperatively with the City of Marathon (Vice Mayor Dick Ramsay and Finance Director Peter Rosasco) to establish a port of entry for Marathon and the Middle Keys. I hope to get the support of the County Commission and move ahead with the renovation of the airport terminal to meet the requirements of U.S. Customs. Full operation toward the end of 2012 is a reasonable expectation.
The 1 percent sales tax for Monroe County is set to sunset in 2018 and it looks like a referendum will be on the 2012 ballot to extend the tax in order to secure more funding for the county’s wastewater system. What possible ramifications could occur if this tax is not extended?
The plus side for the voter to know is that tourists pay about 50 percent of the sales tax. If the referendum fails, and we have no other source of funding, then the cost could fall 100 percent to the residents of Monroe County. The State has the authority to impose severe sanctions on the County if the project is not completed by the deadline of 2015.
There is little doubt that we will be requesting an extension of this completion date, and it will hopefully be granted.
County Administrator Roman Gastesi proposed adding other special projects to the referendum that could result in a new Community Park in the Upper Keys, restoration for the old 7 Mile Bridge and redevelopment of Higgs Beach or preservation of the working waterfront in Key West. How do you feel about extending the sales tax to fund these projects?
There is a question whether Roman will be supported by the commission in his concept. I just welcome the fact that he is that inventive. His idea is to pick each region of the Keys and give them a reason why they want to vote for the infrastructure tax. Make Rowell’s a community event field. Restore the 7 Mile Bridge out to Pigeon Key; in the Lower Keys, purchase working waterfront to preserve for the commercial fishing business. We came up with the idea of preserving the working waterfront, and commercial fishing businesses have some concern that if we find that these projects do not have universal appeal, they could have the effect of defeating the extension of the $0.1 sales tax. Personally, I doubt that these issues will be included in the referendum.
In the 80s, you crashed your aerobatic plane on Grassy Key during the annual Sheriff’s picnic. You smashed both ankles, broke your jaw and busted up 16 molars. Other than that accident, has your life ever been in danger?
Of course! I grew up in a rural area where one of the pastimes was racing the family car, and there were several occasions when I should have been killed; but, I think that is true for most people in some ways. I have had people that I worked with (as a health care professional) threaten to kill me.
I have not chosen to go gently through life. The airplane crash changed my life. It certainly opened my eyes to mortality.
The State of Florida is set to grant the city of Marathon 100 transient ROGO units as a reward for progress on sewer installation – prompting the county to raise concerns to Tallahassee that some view as meddling in Marathon’s affairs. What is the county’s motivation?
We are not meddling in Marathon’s affairs. I am proud of Marathon, but this is not just Marathon’s issue, because we all work out of ROGO. There is a finite, but as yet unknown, number of ROGO units that we are going to get. In the spring, we will find what that number is going to be.
For transient ROGO units, it is not a big deal – 100 ROGO transient permits for Marathon is not going to change the picture in Monroe County. These permits will allow the construction of additional hotel rooms and for hurricane evacuation, the tourists have to leave early anyway.
Marathon needs those 100 ROGO permits, and even if they get the second hundred that they want, I doubt that the County will feel concern.