Monroe county commissioners approved a $519-million spending plan during a Sept. 21 meeting.

Monroe county commissioners unanimously adopted a $519-million spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year during a final budget hearing at the Murray Nelson Government Center in Key Largo on Sept. 21. With labor, insurance, utilities, fuel and other costs rising, overall spending in the 2023 budget is up roughly $62 million compared to the adopted 2022 budget.

Commissioners also said ‘yes’ to a slight decrease in the aggregate millage rate from the previous year. 

Forty percent of budget expenditures, or $208 million, fall within departments under the board of county commissioners for the 2023 fiscal year. The Tourist Development Council and Monroe County Sheriff’s Office each account for 15% of budget expenditures, followed by capital projects, including debt service, at 13%. Budget expenses also include the tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections and clerk of the court. 

An aggregate millage rate of 3.2326 for the coming 2023 fiscal year is a 4.2% decrease from the previous fiscal year when the millage rate was set at 3.3748. According to county officials, it’s the lowest millage rate in the state of Florida. 

“While Monroe County makes an effort to adjust their millage to what we actually need that year,  a majority of counties either keep their millage rate no matter what happens to the value if it continues to go up,” said Tina Boan, senior director of budget and finance. “They just benefit from the increase. Or you see a couple counties there that actually do some kind of a tweak to it each year.”

According to the county, a homesteaded residential property owner with an average appraised assessed taxable value of $469,161 in 2022 will see a 66-cent monthly decrease in their property tax for the upcoming fiscal year.

Despite a decrease in the millage, the county will collect roughly $10 million more in ad valorem taxes, which fund county services, in the 2023 fiscal year. A 2022 adopted budget brought the total ad valorem tax levy to $107 million. In 2023, revenue from ad valorem taxes is $117 million. An additional $1.5 million will go to the county health department. Roughly 71% of ad valorem taxes go to public safety, which include law enforcement, fire rescue and the health department. 

Pushing more revenue is the growing gross taxable property in the county. In 2019, the taxable value on property totaled $28.5 billion. In 2022, that number spiked $36.8 billion. Property values have doubled in the last 10 years. 

“We’re at an historic high,” Boan said. 

County officials are projecting an increase in the 1-cent infrastructure sales surtax of more than $30 million. Fiscal year 2021 saw the highest annual 1-cent surtax revenue at $28.6 million. Roughly 60% of the funds go to the county, 28% to Key West, 8.7% to Marathon, 6.2% to Islamorada and small percentages to Key Colony Beach and Layton. 

Monroe County is projecting a fund balance totaling $35 million, which includes $10 million in hurricane disaster reserves and roughly four months of operating capital. 

As for infrastructure, the budget invests in the Harbor Drive, Seaview Drive and Bimini Drive bridges. Capital funds also include repairs to No Name Key Bridge and the Gato Building in Key West, various wastewater projects on Duck Key and Big Coppitt and sea level rise projects at Twin Lakes in Key Largo and the Sands Subdivision on Big Pine Key, to name a few. 

In addition, the budget provides more than $2.1 million for 26 community-based nonprofit organizations, as recommended by the county’s Human Services Advisory Committee. Florida Keys Area Health Education Center (AHEC) will receive $198,000. The Florida Keys Children’s Shelter will get $150,000, while Samuel’s House will receive $120,000.

Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.