An Islamorada dais entered its first budget season alongside a new village manager inside the Founders Park Community Center on Aug. 3. Islamorada Manager Greg Oravec treated the workshop on Aug. 3 a little differently, calling it a “strategic retreat” in order to help the dais and community figure out the village’s path. 

Through Oravec’s lead, department heads and staff members attending in person and on Zoom broke into groups for an interactive exercise over the course of three hours. Oravec not only sought what they believed to be the village’s essence, but he also wanted to find commonalities in Islamorada strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges. The exercise sought to develop a vision and a road map for Islamorada, the sport fishing capital of the world.

​​Oravec emphasized that it was only an exercise, meaning the development of a strategic plan is more intense and more citizen- and professionally-driven.”

“A real plan would be community-driven. We need to check with other people who have different points of view,” he said. “We can’t do a strategic plan until we put it in the budget.”

Traffic on the road, inadequate workforce housing, lack of staffing and pollution were among the common challenges coming out of the group exercise. Real estate value, community aesthetics and local organizations were among the strengths. 

“We’re trying to identify a long-term vision so we can then create a road map to get there,” Oravec said. “We’re trying to figure out the final destination so we can find our waypoints, understanding we’ll adjust along the way. You gotta know where you’re going, otherwise you waste time and money.”

Councilman David Webb said picking a path that saves the best of what Islamorada used to be, while providing a better future for people living in the village now, will be the biggest trick. While still viewed as the sportfishing capital of the world, Webb said Islamorada is now a “bedroom community.”

“There are many families who’ve been here for generations, and there are many things about the past that they feel fondly about,” he said. “This whole transition concept is one of the biggest obstacles that we’re going to have to overcome because we’re going to have to pick a path.”

Councilman Mark Gregg said he had the chance to participate in the village’s visioning process some 20 years ago. The results back then included strong emphasis on branding Islamorada as the sportfishing capital of the world, the environment and quality of life. Gregg said that from the group exercise, there is a greater emphasis on quality of life and protecting the environment. 

“Those have risen up,” he said. “There is also an undercurrent of defending against excessive development. We’re kind of full, is what I’m hearing. That’s just a change from what I observed.”

Mayor Buddy Pinder said people came to Islamorada for its island life. Pinder, too, said the village has transitioned a bit and noted the affordability of living in paradise.

“I just came from Spanish Wells (in the Bahamas). This young lady was a waitress at the place we were eating Saturday night, and one customer asked her if she would be able to afford land here. The answer was ‘no,’ the cost of land has gotten out of sight. Those kids raised on Spanish Wells, more than likely, will have to move elsewhere.”

Following the exercise, finance director Maria Bassett provided an overview of the village’s 2021-22 preliminary budget proposal, which proposes a 3.015 millage rate that was adopted during last year’s budget. Bassett said it’s a 5.8% increase over the rollback.

Taxable value in the village is around $4.2 billion. That’s up from around $2.46 billion in taxable value some 10 years ago. Property values have been soaring by an average of 7% since 2012, Bassett said. She also noted that the value of new construction over the last year is around $50 million. 

Proposed expenditures within the general fund are around $17.3 million. 

Two members of the public attended the workshop in person, while the majority of those participating virtually were village staff members. 

Oravec said the budget is connected to the people, time, talent, taxpayer dollars and the community’s past, present and future. Oravec wished for more preparation time and an updated community-driven strategic plan on the shelves. He also noted a COVID-19 resurgence that’s affected staff and citizens.

A second budget workshop started Aug. 4. More coverage on day two of the workshop can be found at Budget hearings are set for Sept. 3 and Sept. 14 at 5:30 p.m. at Founders Park Community Center.

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Jim McCarthy believes in community reporting, giving back and life on the water. A workout fanatic, diver and a bogey-golfer, Jim loves chicken wings, Marvel movies and sports.