Attention, Key West voters, have you looked at your ballot? Sample ballots are available online at keyselections.org. (Click on “Sample Ballot List” at the top of the home page.) If you’ve requested a vote-by-mail ballot, it arrives in a large yellow envelope.
Regardless of your political party affiliation, all Key West ballots include seven referendum questions that voters will answer on Aug. 23, or during early voting, which runs from Monday, Aug. 8 through Saturday, Aug. 20.
The Lower Keys Democrats recommend a “Yes” vote on all seven ballot questions, according to their website. The Southernmost Republican Club had not published recommendations on its website as of Monday, Aug. 8.
Here’s a rundown of the questions:
School Board Referendum: Renewal of Operational Funding for Monroe County Schools
This question, known by the school district as the Flexible Funding Initiative, appears on all Monroe County ballots, and has been resoundingly approved by voters for nearly 20 years. The referendum allows the school district to raise more tax money for teacher salaries while lowering the amount raised for capital, or construction, projects. This is not a tax increase.
When approved, the county school board lowers its tax for capital projects by the same amount that it increases the tax for salaries and operational expenses. Approval of this question does not represent any net tax increase, but a shift that enables more spending for salaries and school safety officers, and less for construction projects. If the referendum does not pass, the school district will lose $24 million, which equates to about 220 positions, including teachers, school district finance director Bev Anders told the school board on Aug. 9.
Referendum: Authorization to Lease Real Property up to 99 Years Exclusively for a Botanical Garden
This question appears only on Key West ballots, and asks voters to approve a long-term lease for the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden, which is located on College Road on Stock Island. The garden has been on that site for 86 years.
“A 99-year lease will protect the garden for future generations,” said executive director Misha McRae.
The garden is situated on property owned by the city of Key West that is leased to the nonprofit Botanical Garden Society. But in order to secure more permanent and substantial grant funding, the garden society must be able to show potential funders that they have long-term control of the site, and not be subject to a lost lease.
Key West voters have approved similar long-term leases for properties on which affordable housing will be built in order to allow the builders to obtain public funding for the construction, and to prove they will have long-term control of the site.
Amendment to Allow Acquisition by Any Means of Any Real Property by Supermajority Vote
This question would change Key West’s charter, which currently requires voter approval before the city can buy or accept any property. If approved, this question would allow the city to acquire property with a supermajority vote of the seven-member city commission, meaning five votes instead of four.
This matter pertains to situations in which the city wants to buy property, such as its purchase of the former Key West Citizen building on Northside Drive, and in situations in which an owner wants to donate property to the city of Key West. As of now, both such arrangements require voter approval, which cannot always happen in a timely manner, based on election schedules. Any future annexation of property or lands will still require voter approval through the referendum process.
If approved, Key West residents will have multiple opportunities to weigh in — for or against — any property acquisitions through public meetings, workshops and individual communications with their city commissioners and the mayor.
Expansion of People Who Should Not Be Discriminated Against Because of Association with Certain Groups
It is common today to read that government agencies and other organiztations do not discriminate against people based on race, creed, religion, national origin or sexual orientation. This question, if approved, will change the city charter by expanding those non-discrimination categories to include people’s “gender identity/expression, irreligion and immigration status.”
Replacement of Gender Specific References in the City Charter to Reflect Gender Neutrality
If approved, this referendum will replace any gender-specific references in the city charter, such as “he” and “his,” to gender neutral references such as “they” and “theirs.”
Amendment to impose a residency requirement to be eligible for city office: Should the city charter be amended to require candidates for mayor or city commissioner to have a one-year continuous residency in the city of Key West?
If approved, this question will require candidates for mayor and city commissioner to have lived continuously in Key West for at least one year prior to seeking office.
Amendment to eliminate the issuance of blank petitions by Clerk and amend language regarding specific genders: Should the city charter be amended to eliminate the requirement that the City Clerk issue blank petitions at the petitioners’ expense to any group of qualified voters who are organized to initiate a referendum or ordinance and amend language regarding specific genders to general neutral references?
The Keys Weekly asked Key West City Clerk Cheri Smith about this question and learned its implications are minimal, and the question may be one of a housekeeping type. While the city charter currently includes language requiring the city clerk to provide blank petition forms, City Clerk Cheri Smith said her office hasn’t provided those forms for at least the past 25 years. If approved, this question would just eliminate that requirement from the charter.
“We’ve never provided those blank petition forms to any group for at least the past 25 years,” Smith said on Monday, Aug. 8. “For example, when Safer Cleaner Ships wanted to get petitions signed to get the cruise ship questions on the 2020 ballot, the charter currently says those petition forms are available at the city clerk’s office. But they’re not. Instead I tell such groups that we’ve never provided those forms, but that the city charter outlines exactly what a group needs to do to create those petitions and submit the signed ones.”