Budget season is upon us at city and county levels. On July 22, the Board of County Commissioners will convene to review the first report of the proposed budget, covering infrastructure projects and ongoing hurricane recovery and preparation. In that meeting, which will take place in the Marathon Government Center, the county will certify the approved millage rate (aka property tax rate) to the Property Appraiser.

The plan also prepares for future challenges posed by climate change and sea level rise, including funding for vulnerability analyses and mitigation planning. Likewise, the county projects new hires to accommodate growing needs in departments like Parks and Rec and is reassessing salary increases using the Evergreen Salary Study tool.

These building and improvement projects will be presented in the July 22 meeting:

  • Plantation Key Courthouse and Detention Complex – the largest infrastructure project in the county’s history.
  • Emergency Operations Center in Marathon.
  • Marathon Branch Library and Adult Education Center.
  • Cudjoe Key Firehouse.
  • Public defender’s office.
  • Ocean Reef Building Purchase.
  • Senior nutrition center.
  • Enhancements to Rowell’s Waterfront Park in Key Largo, Higgs Beach in Key West, Big Pine Key Swimming Hole, and Lower Keys Viewing Area and Nature Center.
  • Improvements to Pigeon Key facility and repairs to Pigeon Key ramp, East and West Martello Museums in Key West.
  • Two road elevation demonstration projects in Key Largo and Big Pine Key.
  • Four roadway/drainage projects in Stock Island, Key West, Big Pine Key and Key Largo.
  • Three bridge replacements: two on Duck Key and one on Sugarloaf.
  • Overseas Heritage Trail at Cudjoe Gardens.

These projects will be illuminated in more detail in community budget meetings in September. The proposed budget also has continued funding for safeguarding people and property, which in turn reduces property insurance premiums. Funding this year’s proposed budget will add firefighters, fire inspectors, and fire hydrants. It will also take the County’s ISO (Insurance Service Organization) rating from a 3 to a 2. Only 3% of communities across the country are ranked 1 or 2.

The budget reflects the BOCC’s direction to meet increased service demands and workload and includes a Parks and Recreation Director position, code compliance officers and staff at Guardian ad Litem. It also includes additional funding for the Human Services Advisory Board, which supports nonprofit social service providers.

Regarding Hurricane Irma, the proposed budget reflects the ongoing recovery work, which includes securing state and federal reimbursements, housing, canal cleanups and marine debris removal, and repairs to county facilities.

Salaries also are being reassessed. Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi commented on the Evergreen Salary study: “The county’s recommendation regarding salaries is to go back to the performance-based merit system because performance matters,” said Gastesi. The proposed budget includes a 1.9% cost of living allowance and 2.1% performance-based raise system to all employees and a 4% raise to Monroe County firefighters. This same system was used in fiscal years 2017 and 2018. The performance-based system was not used last year (2019) due to Hurricane Irma. The salary study is a board-directed report, done every five years. Gastesi will also suggest to “bring to minimum” any employees who fall under the range, according to the study.

“There is value in the recommended pay plan from Evergreen. It is a snapshot of where our salaries are in comparison to our hiring competitors,” said Gastesi. “To keep our talented staff, we will have to adjust our rates as needed and salaries will be looked at on a case-by-case basis instead of one fell swoop as Evergreen suggests.”

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2020 is .28 percent below the rollback millage rate (the rate at which the county can legally tax properties while maintaining or growing property value). Per the BOCC’s authorization, there will be a new taxing district to help fund the hospital in the Middle Keys. The taxing district will be from MM 40 to MM 65 and has a proposed millage rate of .5000, which will raise the aggregate percent over rollback to 1.84 percent.

The special budget meeting will be held July 22 at 10 a.m. in the Marathon Government Center BOCC chambers to certify the proposed millage rate to the Property Appraiser. In September, there will be three community budget meetings. These meetings are open to the public. For more information, visit www.monroecounty-fl.gov/budgetandfinance.

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