Carruthers, Martinez vie for County Commission District 3 seat

Monroe County has lost tourism revenue, tax revenue and residents throughout the coronavirus crisis. Additional challenges lie ahead as the island chain deals with sea level rise, housing shortages for  working residents, the continuing decline of the coral reef and the steep cost of employee salaries and benefits packages.

The Monroe County Commission District 3 race pits incumbent Democrat Heather Carruthers against Republican political newcomer and professional land surveyor Eddie Martinez. 

Keys Weekly asked both candidates the same four questions in 100 words or less. Below are the questions each candidate was asked, along with their  answers. 

Questions posed to County Commission District 3 candidates:

Name:  Heather Carruthers


Age: Older than I look (I hope)
Professional Background: Before Key West: marketing and advertising, and professional ensemble singing. In Key West: hotelier (owner of a 38-room guest house)
Political Party: Democratic
Current Job: County Commissioner and Realtor

Q: If you had sole authority to make one immediate and permanent change to Monroe County government (with regard to policies, operations, personnel, payroll, or anything else) what would you do?

Answer: Come on, just one? I would change our requirement to abide by certain state regulations and unfunded mandates that govern the character of our communities. For instance, we can’t amend regulations for vacation rentals or whether your neighbor has a gun range in his backyard. We pick up the tab for state decisions like defunding health departments and increasing school security without real input into the decisions in the first place. Florida is a very diverse state, and one size does not fit all. We should have more latitude to meet our community’s needs.

Q: Financial losses due to the coronavirus pandemic are still being calculated and continue to rise at the local, state, national and global level. As Monroe County develops its budgets for the next five years, where, specifically, should cuts be made, and how do you envision the impact on property taxes?

Answer: This is not the year to be raising property taxes, even though our budget will likely take about an $8 million hit thanks to COVID-19. We have about 39 staff vacancies that we won’t be able to fill that should save us around $2 million. There will be no merit increases this year. I want to see if we have any leeway to redirect some capital monies into operations. We need to replenish our reserves over the next five years. There are some projects that we’d hope to begin that will have to be postponed, eliminated or scaled back, but I can’t enumerate them until we are actually in the budget process which will begin in a few weeks.

Q: With the added benefit of hindsight, what should Monroe County have done differently in its response to coronavirus? 

Answer: I wish we had been aware earlier — but that’s true not just of our County. I do believe we did a pretty good job of “flattening the curve” and not overwhelming our hospital system. I worry the inconsistency in the mask issue may have impacts going forward. I would like the TDC message to more forcefully support responsible travel to the Keys (and I’m working on that).

The biggest problem for the County was that the State of Emergency triggered the emergency pay plan that was designed to ensure we had employees to respond to a hurricane, and this was a very different kind of event. We should have never gone to emergency pay. We fixed it as soon as we caught it, but that was too late.

Q: What must Monroe County do to encourage and enable more affordable housing options in the Keys? 

Answer: Where to start? We have limited land and high cost of construction due to our building strength requirements and our distance from the mainland. As the Commissioner tasked with addressing this issue after Irma, I advocated for streamlining the approval process (while still allowing multiple opportunities for public input) to help lower the cost and decrease the time it takes to build workforce developments. We must allow some increases in density in appropriate areas (especially those close to employment centers) to make it worthwhile to build. I advocate dedicating all our unspoken-for future building rights (ROGOs) for affordable housing. We also need to find some way to encourage owners of multiple properties to rent to full-time residents at affordable rates.


Name: Eddie A. Martinez

Age: 45
Professional Background: Professional Surveyor & Mapper, Land Planner, Paralegal, USCG Merchant Marine captain, Technical Scuba Instructor, Multi-Level Firearms Instructor
Political Party: Republican
Current Job: Professional Surveyor & Mapper; president of Monroe County Surveying & Mapping, Inc.

Q: If you had sole authority to make one immediate and permanent change to Monroe County government (with regard to policies, operations, personnel, payroll, or anything else) what would you do?

Answer: Restructuring. This county is in need of a big reboot. Many departments are dysfunctional with no qualified leadership at the top. There are many locals in Monroe who have all of the qualifications needed to get this going in the right direction, Let’s use our local talent where it is needed the most and get rid of incompetence. 

Q: Financial losses due to the coronavirus pandemic are still being calculated and continue to rise at the local, state, national and global level. As Monroe County develops its budgets for the next five years, where, specifically, should cuts be made, and how do you envision the impact on property taxes?

Answer: I’d make up the gap in the budget by adding tolls for non-residents. It costs about $20 to get into Manhattan, why not a toll to get into the Keys? Why not multiple tolls? We are an area of critical concern. We are an environmentally fragile area. To keep this up takes money. An FDOT study (attached) shows that on the average, 24,500 cars drive into Monroe County daily. A $20 fee would boost us up more or less $179 million per year. Remove any residents and businesses, say only 10% were to actually go in the budget, it would still help out to the tune of $18 million.

Q: With the added benefit of hindsight, what should Monroe County have done differently in its response to coronavirus? 

Answer: Well, let’s start by not doing what Carruthers did to us by overpaying in overtime, double time and triple time to the ones who did NOT need it. This is part of the reboot. 

Q: What must Monroe County do to encourage and enable more affordable housing options in the Keys? 

Answer: Proper planning. We have never had it. Use our spaces wisely. Incorporate affordability in the design of new structures, give incentives to builders to make them permanent and actually ensure it’s going to those who need it, not just to anyone making up or faking the paperwork.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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