LETTER TO THE EDITOR: COUNTY LEADER LOOKS BACK ON 2021 & FORWARD TO 2022

2021 was a challenging year. With all the tribulations Monroe County has endured, our commissioners and staff have continued the forward press to enhance our citizens’, business owners’ and visitors’ quality of life. There is nothing more important to us than the health, safety and well-being of our residents and guests as we spent the last two years learning how to adapt. I am honored to have served as Monroe County administrator for the past 15 years, and I am proud of our residents, commissioners, and 579 county employees.

Emergency Management continues its COVID-19 partnership with the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County, community partners and the Keys municipalities, while activating for two tropical storms in 2021. Our Information Technology department is diligently automating services for residents, including the new permitting system that will go live in 2022. Engineering and Roads was busy with bridge projects on Duck Key, significant road improvements in Key West, and road elevation projects throughout the county. Solid Waste supported on-site collection on Duck Key to accommodate bridge closures, while Monroe County saw an increase in all areas of debris management.

The Office of Sustainability and our County Commission continue to lead the country in climate change and sea-level rise adaptation conversations. The county is committed to continuing the Roads Vulnerability Analysis and Capital Plan for county-maintained roads, which includes recommendations to maintain access to homes in unincorporated Monroe County until the year 2045. Canal restoration efforts are also in full force, supporting the health of our nearshore waters. Our Strategic Planning staff hosted town halls to gather new community feedback and reaffirmed safety on U.S. 1 as a number-one priority. And, unincorporated Monroe County received one of the best ratings in the country for coastal communities in the Community Rating System, saving Florida Keys flood insurance policyholders millions of dollars annually.

Our Facilities Maintenance team always strives to maintain the highest cleaning standards at county-maintained properties and buildings, and with the hiring of a director for the newly created Parks and Beaches division, Monroe County’s open spaces will continue to thrive. Project Management employees completed capital projects at the Marathon library and Cudjoe Key fire station, and the new Plantation Key Courthouse will open in early 2022. On the brink of a major renovation project, Key West International Airport hosts six airlines offering 21 nonstop destinations and hub airport connections. In 2021, the airport served more than 1 million passengers, the most it’s ever seen.

Legislatively, the county secured $26 million from the state, most of that in Florida Keys Stewardship funding – the most we have ever seen – while continuing to push for the funding to be placed in the annually allocated Land Acquisition Trust Fund. This year, the governor has it listed, and we have high hopes it will stay, and thus secure money for the Florida Keys environment for years to come. Our Budget and Finance department advocated for reimbursements of COVID-19 and storm-related expenses while producing and administering the $457.3 million budget for fiscal year 2022.

Monroe County Fire Rescue and Trauma Star continued to provide a record number of lifesaving services and flights to the mainland with no out-of-pocket costs for residents. Fire Rescue graduated its fourth “Hot Shots” class, waiving tuition fees for residents at its fire training academy, and secured grant funding to hire new firefighters. Social Services, Veterans Affairs, and Guardian ad Litem advocated for our most vulnerable residents, many of whom are in even greater need during the pandemic. And, the Extension Service guided residents in gardening, sustainability and other vital Florida Keys resources.

From Ocean Reef to Key West, Planning and Environmental developed new ROGO (development) criteria and re-implemented mobile marine sewage pump-outs to protect our marine environment. Code Compliance focused on illegal vacation rentals, unsafe structure abatement and illegal clearing of our critical habitat. Fleet personnel continued maintenance of county vehicles. Employee Services worked with local hospitals to ensure employees and locally insured residents had access to in-network emergency room care. The County Attorney’s office reviewed 1,306 documents, including 44 ordinances and 490 resolutions. The county’s five libraries were awarded a $1 million grant — the greatest amount awarded to a Florida library — to update technology. The library system also had its biggest year on record, reaching over 64,000 e-circulations by the end of 2021.

Our purpose remains steady. Monroe County is committed to creating a better life every day for everyone in the Florida Keys. In 2022, Monroe County will continue to have open and courageous communication with our community. We will be here for you. This is a community we can all be proud of, and we will continue to strive to make our island home a safe and enjoyable place to live, work and play.

Cheers in paradise,

Roman Gastesi

Monroe County Administrator

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