Key West officials had harsh words for their Monroe County counterparts during the city’s budget workshop Thursday, when talk turned to a potential new partnership in Poinciana Gardens assisted-living facility.
Monroe County plans to close the 16-bed Bayshore Manor senior living facility on Stock Island and move the 11 current residents to Poinciana Gardens on Duck Avenue in Key West. That closure will save the county $1.2 million per year and will free up the Bayshore property for other county uses.
Initial discussions, led by county commissioner and former Key West mayor Craig Cates, about a financial partnership between Key West and Monroe County to fund Poinciana Gardens had Key West ponying up $400,000 the first year, $200,000 the second year and $100,000 the third year to give the county time to stabilize the facility’s financial footing.
Key West officials were fine with that arrangement and included the first $400,000 in next year’s budget.
Then, this week, the city learned that Monroe County now expects the city to contribute $600,000 a year for all three years.
That didn’t go over well in Thursday’s city budget workshop, where city commissioners and the mayor discussed opposition from Upper Keys residents to the county spending money on something they won’t use.
“I can’t get it out of my mind the cost savings that the county will realize of $1.2 million by closing Bayshore Manor compared to what we’re being asked,” Mayor Teri Johnston said, adding that the city has received no information, no business plan, no consultant’s report or financial information about Poinciana Gardens, or why it has always struggled to remain salient.
“It’s negotiating with a bully,” city commissioner Greg Davila said on Thursday. “I think it’s necessary, but the county has us over a barrel and they’re comfortable with that. I can’t believe they’re taking this position, but they are. How much does Key West spend for services in the county that we don’t use? I just can’t believe that politically they’re doing this to us.”
Commissioner Jimmy Weekley suggested the city take the county to court.
“Social services are a county’s responsibility,” Weekley said. “That’s how the state of Florida is set up. Is there a way to take Monroe County to court and have a judge say that this is the county’s obligation? How much of our money is paying for stuff, like Rowell’s Marina, in the Upper Keys? It seems to me they don’t want to live up to their obligation by the state.”
Commissioner Sam Kaufman further pointed out that by closing Bayshore Manor, “the county will be reducing services that they’re obligated to provide to some of our most vulnerable residents. Maybe we should discuss the city doing this without the county. If they’re not involved, they can’t close Bayshore Manor. And they gain a lot more than anyone by closing it.”
Commissioner Mary Lou Hoover agreed with a potential legal challenge to the county, saying “We’re bargaining with people’s lives. Every once in a while you have to stand up to a bully. I think we’re going to have to take a strong stand, particularly if the county isn’t willing to come to the table and talk.”
Commissioner Clayton Lopez added, “Where’s the good faith? We’re over a barrel here, but we need to negotiate to get them to come to some reality.”
At the end of the lengthy discussion, the city commission asked city manager Patti McLauchlin to get in touch with county administrator Roman Gastesi and see what can be done. But they decided to keep the $400,000 they already budgeted for Poinciana Gardens in place in the budget.