The Marathon City Council’s shortest session in recent memory saw just two community attendees at a 30-minute meeting with requests from council members to city finance director Jennifer Johnson as she begins preparations for Marathon’s 2023-24 budget.

After receiving budget templates from department heads throughout May and June, Johnson will meet with council members and City Manager George Garrett throughout the summer to address concerns before the final millage rate – the city’s “price” per $1,000 in taxable value – and budget are the subjects for two public hearings in September.

Requests from councilman Jeff Smith included a human resources compensation report to determine if the city is offering competitive salaries in most staff positions and a discussion of possible uses for money raised through the city’s newly-enacted parking fees at beaches and boat ramps. He also asked for a reexamination of current transfer fees for transferable building rights (TBRs) and transferable development rights (TDRs).

Johnson said the city’s last formal compensation study was completed in 2016, and that she has already budgeted for 9% salary increases based on the regional Consumer Price Index (CPI) as published by Miami’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. City employees last year received a similar adjustment of 9.6%

“I think we could probably look immediately to the south and north of us and see what the salary scale is,” said Mayor Luis Gonzalez. “Those are our immediate threats on where our people would potentially go. … We can start from there.”

Smith advocated for discretion to be given to department heads to appropriately compensate “top performers and underperformers” as opposed to across-the-board flat raises.

“I think the first thing we need to do is to look at each of the positions where we are particularly in need of increasing their compensation, because we simply aren’t being competitive with neighboring jurisdictions,” said Garrett. “Then you look at what positions aren’t being filled and why, and frankly, some of this just gets down to that it’s hard to live in the Keys.”

The city’s website currently lists openings for four different job titles. Johnson said she has only received a request for one additional budgeted position next year in Marathon’s fire rescue department.

Garrett also advised the council to begin considering how to treat those currently on the Building Permit Allocation System (BPAS) waitlist who have contributed funds to affordable housing or conservation initiatives in order to earn points within the system. With the city’s remaining allocations dwindling, several will likely be unable to receive the allocations in the foreseeable distribution schedule. 

Gonzalez, Smith and councilman Lynn Landry formed the council’s quorum for the evening. Vice Mayor Robyn Still and councilman Kenny Matlock were absent.

Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.