In the spring of 2017, a 17-page questionnaire regarding business and residential priorities circulated the Keys. 433 were returned. It was created to help craft the 2018 budget with the strategic plan in mind, since it expires in 2020.

Monroe County’s Strategic Planner Kimberly Matthews knew there had to be a better way. The interactive process she implemented has already polled 392 people during six presentations. And she’s just now getting to the halfway mark of collecting feedback.

“This is more straightforward,” said Matthews. “At the end of the three months, we will compile all the answers and present the findings to the county commissioners. What you have to say really matters to us.”

At the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce general meeting on Aug. 20, 26 Lower Keys residents put their opinions to work with the anonymous interactive presentation via their cell phones.

Questions included words to describe their personal beliefs for the future of Monroe County, with words like affordable, sustainable and environment popping up. Before Hurricane Irma, recurring issues included traffic and workforce housing, and since the storm, she has seen other priorities rise, including resiliency and insurance rates.

Next, members were asked to rank what they believe should be the county’s top priorities in the next three to five years. During this particular presentation, they were ranked 1) affordable workforce housing, 2) traffic on U.S.1, 3) growth control and over-development, 4) water quality, 5) wind insurance rates, 6) building to resiliency, 7) hardening infrastructure such as cellular and utilities, and 8) planning building and code processes.

The director of recovery asked a specific question on the survey: What aspect of the community do you feel was more impacted by Hurricane Irma? In an overwhelming response, housing had 85 percent of the vote, easily outpacing infrastructure, environment and jobs.

The chamber members were then asked what redevelopment project they would feel would be most beneficial to community; statements like “permits in a timely manner,” “underground utilities,” and “tiny homes” were shown on the projector.

The whole process takes about 30 minutes. Other questions included what things Monroe County does well, and what it can improve on, and whether “you get your money’s worth” with Monroe County.

The online survey can be taken at monroecounty-fl.gov/661/strategic-planning. Groups can also email Matthews directly to book the presentation at Matthews-kimberly@monroecounty-fl.gov. “It’s easy to get to the Chambers and the Rotarys, but I am happy to do homeowner associations, mom’s groups or book clubs, too,” she said. “We want to make sure everybody’s opinion is represented.”

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