Islamorada Village Manager Ted Yates speaks to a room of local leaders during a state of the village address at Islamorada Fish Club on Jan. 11. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

Islamorada Village Manager Ted Yates couldn’t believe the turnout as he stood before a group of local leaders inside the Islamorada Fish Club on Jan. 11 for a state of the village address. As former mayor of Twinsburg, Ohio, Yates said it was something he always did to showcase operations, highlight staff and report on the past year and what’s ahead. 

But a state of the village address hasn’t been commonplace in the village in recent memory — a byproduct of managers coming and going for various reasons. Roughly a year ago, the Islamorada dais was dealing with the unexpected resignation of then-manager Greg Oravec, who lost his appetite for the job after six months. By Aug. 1, 2022, the council’s selection in Yates got underway. 

With a manager settled, digging into the issues and embracing the community, the village is primed for a busy 2023.

“I expected this to be a nice turnout, but I didn’t think it would sell out,” Yates said. 

Upon being selected as the next village manager, Yates and Henry Rosenthal, vice mayor at the time, negotiated the village manager contract that included a $200,000 salary, $15,000 for moving expenses and health benefits equating to $125 per pay period for his spouse, children and himself. 

In a bid to better recruit and retain employees, one of the main focuses for Yates’ first months in office was health insurance for employees, and specifically their families. 

Yates told attendees he negotiated a lower insurance rate with the intention of offering something similar for employees. Village employees paid around $40 a month to cover themselves, but costs escalated to $811 if they wanted to insure their families. That wasn’t affordable for hourly employees, leaving them with a choice to not cover their loved ones. Yates said that wasn’t the way to retain and recruit staff. 

“We were able to renegotiate our contract for health insurance. We were able to lower that family rate for employees to $115,” Yates said. “Long term, when we look at our overall recruitment, this is going to make a big difference in our operations.”

A village planning department headed by Dan Gulizio spent the past year dealing with dwindling building permit allocations and a number of code irregularities and inconsistencies. Yates said they recently restructured the department and created a planning director position. Late last year, the village hired Jennifer DeBoisbriand to fill that position. She spent two decades in planning and economic development in Massachusetts before coming to Islamorada. In addition, Yates said he wants to bring in an in-house engineer.

“It could make the village more efficient to process and review plans,” he said. “It will help with all the development going on.”

Yates said Gulizio and staff have a number of fixes to the village’s code, with several proposals set to go before the council this year. One proposal deals with providing a set of guidelines for farmers markets operating in the village, which include locations where they’re allowed and what constitutes a flea market. Another confronts accessory structures being used for business activities on property in residential areas.

Yates said the planning department and he continue to face challenges with the village’s 52 remaining building permit allocations. A little over 605 allocations were distributed the last 20 years.

Yates also touched on vacation rentals and new software used to track down illegal rentals. So far, the software program, known as Rentalscape, has generated $114,000 in fines. Yates said it’s not the “end-all-be-all” to fixing the illegal vacation rental issue. Rather, the software is one tool that helps code enforcement start the investigation on short-term rentals that aren’t a part of the village’s rental program. 

Founders Park, one of the village’s crown jewels, will see its dog park undergo renovations. At Key Tree Cactus Preserve, work is underway to install bathrooms. Among the other departments highlighted were the Islamorada Fire Department, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, the finance department, clerk’s office, public works, IT, human resources and environmental resources.

Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.