Half the brick, half the mortar: DAC III makes hard choices

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Half the brick, half the mortar: DAC III makes hard choices - A bridge over a body of water - Florida Keys
Funding for a commercial tie line to the local utility will mean the Pigeon Key Foundation no longer has to rely solely on solar and generator power. WEEKLY FILE PHOTO

Of the 12 projects requesting financial help, only eight received funding. Of those eight, only four projects received full funding. That’s because the project requests totaled almost $1.6 million, and the amount available for capital project applications was $888,000.

The funds are bed (hotel) taxes collected by the Florida Keys Tourist Development Council and distributed by the District Advisory Council in Region 3, or the Middle Keys.

In fact, the meeting on June 25 started with a general plea from the TDC’s Maxine Pacini. Initially, the applicants were silent.

“At the beginning of this DAC meeting, I told the applicants how much was available, and what had been requested. Then I asked if anybody would like to withdraw or modify the application,” she said.

Pacini said the Dolphin Research Center was the first to speak up and lower its funding request.

“Then other people started raising their hand,” she said, adding the spirit of cooperation was heartening. “Everybody was trying to work together for the betterment of the Middle Keys community.”

The awards must be approved by the TDC, and then contracts will be approved by Monroe County at the start of the fiscal year in October.

The Crane Point Museum had three projects funded, and scrubbed a fourth. It received $37,350 to restore the interior of the antique train car recently moved to the highway frontage. And it received about $44,000 for two trail repair projects.

“We’re extremely grateful to get three out of the four we applied for,” said Charlotte Quinn of Crane Point. “Those two trails desperately need attention and need it now. We’re very grateful.”

The Turtle Hospital also received the full $33,750 it applied for, to install a modern generator above the flood plain.

The biggest grant went to the Pigeon Key Foundation, which leases the small island in the middle of the Seven Mile Bridge from Monroe County. It received $300,000 of the $375,000 it requested to bring power to the island. It currently uses a combination of solar and generator power. Pigeon Key’s Kelly McKinnon said it’s expensive to install a commercial-grade connection to the utility, but much needed.

“This will be the foundation’s most ambitious project to date,” McKinnon said. “The grid tie power will not only improve our environment but allow the foundation to maximize the potential of Pigeon Key as a world-class facility translating directly to heads in beds.”

Other recipients:

  • The City of Marathon received $140,000 in a multi-year grant to improve local beaches, although it asked for $253,000.
  • The Dolphin Research Center received $130,000 of the $150,000 it requested to restore the dolphins’ lagoons.
  • Pigeon Key Foundation also received $72,000 of the $90,000 it requested for re-roofing needs on two structures. It also made an application for about $487,000 to repair the wooden ramp leading from the Old Seven Mile Bridge down to the island but was allotted $50,000.
  • The Coral Restoration Foundation received $81,750 of the $84,750 it requested to plant coral near Sombrero Beach Lighthouse.

Marathon Chamber of Commerce director Daniel Samess said DAC capital funding is always tight, but especially so this year.

“We basically had a two-to-one deficit – twice as many applications as money,” he said. “Right now all of the DACs are dealing with a reduced capital budget because of the Irma effect, although Key West not as much. And the need is still high because we’re still trying to repair the damages from Hurricane Irma.”

The competition for DAC funds has also increased because of changes made in 2017 to the way it funds projects. Previously, only the county received 100% reimbursement for “brick and mortar” projects, but new governing rules also grant the reimbursement rate to applying municipalities and upped the reimbursement to 75% (from 50%) to qualified nonprofits. The favorable reimbursement has made applying for capital improvement projects more attractive and competitive.

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