Beautification line item delayed until budget hearings
Marathon councilman Dick Ramsay, who also serves as the city’s liaison with the Monroe County Airport Authority, said that were the issue of recruiting commercial service into Marathon airport added to this November’s election ballot as a referendum item, residents would overwhelmingly support the idea.
But without a suitable location and proper equipment within the existing facility in which the Transportation Security Administration could screen luggage and passengers, or an “an airline to go some place that’s meaningful like Orlando as opposed to Ft. Myers with Cape Air” it was unlikely that a commercial carrier would operate out of the Middle Keys.
“Not to discourage anyone, but Bahama Air recently came to our community and started a service from here to Ft. Lauderdale,” Ramsay pointed out. “Their special round trip fare was $300 per person. If you and your wife wanted to buy a ticket and go somewhere like the Bahamas, it’d cost you $600 before you even got to Ft. Lauderdale. Most people would just opt to drive.”
Councilman Mike Cinque said he and councilman Pete Worthington, who added the item to the agenda Tuesday night during their regularly scheduled meeting, supported subsidizing a commercial airline to the tune of $17,000 when the option came across the dais two years ago.
“I don’t think we can get an airline without subsidies,” Cinque said. “That’s how it’s done all over the country. But if we take this to a referendum, I’d like to see it on the January presidential primary ballot. I think that will have a bigger turnout.”
Worthington added that putting the item to referendum for the voters wouldn’t cost the city any money, and he would even be willing to purchase a pack of pencils and distribute them to voters on Election Day.
“My biggest fear is that we ask the wrong question and don’t get the answer we want,” said Mayor Ginger Snead. “Until I see the wording of how we’re going to ask, I can’t see putting it to a referendum.”
In other business:
• Following a recent Community Image Advisory Board (CIAB) workshop, and at the request of Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce CEO Daniel Samess speaking on behalf of his board of directors, Ramsay attempted to gauge the council’s level of commitment to beautifying Marathon’s commercial corridor and main artery for tourists traveling to Key West by asking for a budgetary line item specifically designated for that purpose.
“We need to make a commitment – not with a figure or tax – but saying that we’re going to go into budget time so that our finance director knows we’re going to have a line item (specifically for beautification),” Ramsay suggested.
Linnea Cunningham reported on behalf of the CIAB the general consensus following the workshop that emphasis should be placed on landscaping; improving the shopping experience; reducing trash; and improving on existing elements.
“We’re looking to create a 5-year plan to include all areas along the U.S. 1 corridor, but we will need input,” Cunningham noted. “This is a community project. Each person can do something in front of their own building or property to make our town look better.”
Samess contended that, “Peace-mealing beautification is no way to go about improving the city’s image. A line item in the budget will allow staff and the city to purposefully fund the plan.”
He further reported that the chamber plans to offer $1,000 to $1,500 reimbursable grants for business owners looking to make improvements to the business facades.
Attorney Frank Greenman proposed that the suggestion is an issue of transparency since there is already money budgeted for landscaping within the city limits.
“Tell people what you’re already spending, and then ask how much more they’re willing to spend,” Greenman suggested.
Worthington said that the city is currently facing a nine percent budget shortfall with declining property values, and suggested that perhaps the timing on the discussion of this item is a bit early.
• Realtor and landlord Karen Farley Wilkinson decried the city’s efforts to address code enforcement issues at the vacant lot currently being rented by Community Asphalt to store equipment being used to continue the city’s wastewater and stormwater project.
“Whatever you say, they don’t care!” Wilkinson exclaimed. Code enforcement came out and couldn’t find anyone…wouldn’t find anyone, rather, that spoke English.”
One of Wilkinson’s tenants, Brass Monkey bartender JJ Starr, reported that she’d witnessed workers urinating in front of her residence in the afternoon, firing up their equipment to begin work as early at 4:45 am and been constantly battling a barrage of dust and soot in her home.
“Why would anybody want to come here?” Starr asked the council. “That doesn’t say vacation!”
Following a detailed photographic report from Code Enforcement Director Cynthia McPhearson, the council directed attorney John Herin to utilize the necessary legal mechanisms – even if it meant going to court – to ensure the contractor’s compliance with the terms of their lease – one of which they had reportedly been in direct violation – using the property as a sorting site that is increasing the circulation of dust in an already record-setting drought.