The race is on – County Commission candidates talk District 2 issues

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After the Aug. 28 primary election, two candidates out of four will be listed for District 2’s Monroe County Commission general election. Three Republicans are in the primary election race for the district, which spans about 40 miles from Boca Chica Key in the Lower Keys north to the bayside portion of Marathon up to 63rd Street. George Neugent will step down from his last of five four-year terms representing District 2. And the candidates to take his seat are…

Republican Primary Election Candidates

Michelle Coldiron 

Elected to Marathon City Council for a three-year term in 2015, Coldiron has been mayor for the last year. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Northern Kentucky University and graduated from Florida League of Cities’ Institute for Elected Municipal Officials. She’s vice president of Global Health Connection Inc. and is a former child advocate coordinator for the Guardian ad Litem Program. Coldiron is married to Greg Coldiron and has one daughter, Mallory Morton. Coldiron has been a full-time resident for 18 years. 

Her top three issues are: Workforce housing, long-term recovery from Hurricane Irma, and the environment.

michelleformonroe.com

Do you think Monroe County and Keys municipalities should rewrite their respective land development regulations in order to accept the potential 1,300 affordable housing units that could be built in the Keys?

These additional units can definitely help alleviate some of the workforce housing crisis however, the Comprehensive Plan must address evacuation during the first 24 hours of a hurricane. The Municipalities can accept 300 units each with the additional 400 being available to the county. In order to accept the affordable housing units, the language in the Land Development Regulations and the Comprehensive Plan will need to be modified. The Department of Economic Opportunity will have to approve the LDR and Comprehensive Plan changes before the units can be allocated. If the changes are approved, the units should be accepted.

On the ballot this year, voters will answer a referendum question about raising taxes to support school safety measures. Recently, the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners decided to create a municipal service taxing district to raise funds for costs incurred by Baptist Health South Florida’s Fishermen’s hospital for indigent care. The BOCC moved to create the taxing district without putting the question to voters on a referendum. Would you have supported this decision, or put the question to the voters?

Nobody, myself included, likes additional taxes. I prefer referendums. However, at stake is the vital critical care hospital. Had this gone to public vote, I’m confident it would have passed, but the referendum would have bound us to a 10 year property tax without the BOCC’s annual review. The way it was approved, the BOCC guaranteed that Baptist Hospital must request the tax each year and, in full transparency, show how the money is utilized and justify its continued need or it stops. As an elected official, I understand that tough decisions have to be made to protect our residents.

The Monroe County Board of County Commissioners has the authority to direct the Tourism Development Council and the funds it collects via the bed tax. The TDC advertises the Keys, supports cultural events, and funds the construction of brick-and-mortar projects. Please rank these three endeavors in order of importance.

Tourism is the top economic driver for the Florida Keys. All three components are equally important to the success of our economy and, subsequently, the quality of life for our residents. It is important that we keep advertising to retain market share and attract new visitors. TDC funds support the maintenance and improvement of our beaches and parks, as well as improvements to nonprofit attractions. These amenities are enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. Funding the events helps provide entertaining activities and quality times for all of us.

Debbie Halama 

Big Pine Key Realtor Debbie Halama said after attending Miami-Dade Community College, she found her true calling in real estate. She has multiple certifications in the industry. Halama spent 11 years in Germany working for the Army and Air Force Exchange Services and upon returning to Florida in the late 1990s started working for First State Bank in the Lower Keys. In 2004, she became a Realtor, and currently specializes in bank-owned properties. Since 2012, she and her family have also operated Molly’s Pawn and More on Big Pine Key. She is married and has two sons. This is her first run for office. 

Her top three issues are: Workforce housing, canal restoration, and school safety

MonroesChoice.com

Do you think Monroe County and Keys municipalities should rewrite their respective land development regulations in order to accept the potential 1,300 affordable housing units that could be built in the Keys?

District 2 has been allotted 300 units, and as a Commissioner I think it is in our best interest to accept and hold on to those. Each district needs to have a voice in the use or the non-use of units in their district. We have a build out approaching in 2023, at that time we may need to look at redeveloping our land, but I do not think we need to rewrite the land development regulations just yet. Also, I am not a proponent of forcing residents of those units to evacuate 48 hours prior to a Hurricane. 

On the ballot this year, voters will answer a referendum question about raising taxes to support school safety measures. Recently, the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners decided to create a municipal service taxing district to raise funds for costs incurred by Baptist Health South Florida’s Fishermen’s hospital for indigent care. The BOCC moved to create the taxing district without putting the question to voters on a referendum. Would you have supported this decision, or put the question to the voters?

As a county commissioner I am there to represent the people, and firmly believe they deserve a voice and a vote in matters such as this. You cannot have taxation without representation. I believe what has happened to the people of Marathon was a classic bait and switch and there is more to this than the rebuilding of a hospital so desperately needed in the Middle Keys. 

The Monroe County Board of County Commissioners has the authority to direct the Tourism Development Council and the funds it collects via the bed tax. The TDC advertises the Keys, supports cultural events, and funds the construction of brick-and-mortar projects. Please rank these three endeavors in order of importance.

If you don’t advertise, you don’t have tourists. That should take priority, followed by Cultural events. We are more than the “Duval Crawl” and the arts need to be further and equally promoted. As a member of the DAC 2 Advisory Board, I have found very few proposals for brick and mortar projects in the Lower Keys, and believe this is an area we need to tap into as we rebuild our District. Going forward, I would like to see more transparency from the TDC and additional public input on our brick and mortar projects.

Charles Weitzel

Charles Weitzel bought his first property in the Keys in 1980, the same year he graduated from Rutgers University. He’s been a certified public accountant in Florida since 1995 when he moved to the Keys full-time. He’s also a charter boat captain and SCUBA instructor. Weitzel is single and has no children. This is his first run for office. 

His top three issues are workforce housing, illegal transient rentals, and employee retention. 

Do you think Monroe County and Keys municipalities should rewrite their respective land development regulations in order to accept the potential 1,300 affordable housing units that could be built in the Keys?

The answer to this complex issue is YES, (with conditions). Carrying Capacity, Sustainability, Continued Growth, and Hurricane Evacuation must be balanced. High-density workforce housing should only be allowed in certain areas in Key West and Marathon. The rural residential neighborhoods should be protected. The destruction of the mobile home parks and the transfer of those rights to other locations must stop immediately.

On the ballot this year, voters will answer a referendum question about raising taxes to support school safety measures. Recently, the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners decided to create a municipal service taxing district to raise funds for costs incurred by Baptist Health South Florida’s Fishermen’s hospital for indigent care. The BOCC moved to create the taxing district without putting the question to voters on a referendum. Would you have supported this decision, or put the question to the voters?

Taxation without representation is WRONG!!! The attitude that “WE KNOW BETTER THAN THE VOTERS” is contrary to my core beliefs. The rush to approve the taxing district without ever explaining why there was a need for such a rush frustrates me. If they were so sure it would pass, why not take it to a referendum? The same BOCC voted to increase the fees for permits at the previous meeting and said something like “IT WAS OK SINCE NO ONE COMPLAINED.” I do not shy away from making life’s tough decisions, but when you are spending another person’s money, they should be heard. 

The Monroe County Board of County Commissioners has the authority to direct the Tourism Development Council and the funds it collects via the bed tax. The TDC advertises the Keys, supports cultural events, and funds the construction of brick-and-mortar projects. Please rank these three endeavors in order of importance.

All three of these endeavors are necessary and inter-related and need to be balanced for the greatest good to the community. The TDC currently has five District Advisory Committees. These DACs are made up on individuals that represent specific areas and are knowledgeable about the needs of those areas. The recommendations of these DACs should be discussed at the monthly BOCC meetings. The BOCC regularly passes “IN BULK” approval for millions of dollars in expenditures without even a discussion of any of the items being funded. I would recommend that all future approvals include a discussion to the items being approved.

DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE

Thomas “Tommy” Ryan

U.S. Army veteran Tommy Ryan attended the police academy at West Point, after which he started his 21-year-long career as a New York City firefighter. He and husband Jon Baird live on Big Pine Key. Ryan has three adult children from a previous marriage and also adopted a set of twin girls while they were in high school. 

His top three issues are hurricane preparedness, both pre- and post-storm; the environment (protecting the water that surrounds us and the water we drink); and seniors and children. This is his first run for office.  

Facebook: Tommy Ryan for Monroe County Commissioner 

Do you think Monroe County and Keys municipalities should rewrite their respective land development regulations in order to accept the potential 1,300 affordable housing units that could be built in the Keys?

I do not agree with accepting the 1,300 affordable units from the State. Accepting these ROGO’s is another example of the State chipping away at Home Rule. Monroe County has for years worked on its land development regulations so that the Keys aren’t over crowded. What’s to stop another Governor from issuing 8,000 ROGO’s that will insure every square inch of the Keys are over built? The big question is also how do you enforce the 48 hour storm exit clause?

On the ballot this year, voters will answer a referendum question about raising taxes to support school safety measures. Recently, the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners decided to create a municipal service taxing district to raise funds for costs incurred by Baptist Health South Florida’s Fishermen’s hospital for indigent care. The BOCC moved to create the taxing district without putting the question to voters on a referendum. Would you have supported this decision, or put the question to the voters?

I do not agree with the vote on the Baptist Hospital Tax District. I fully believe that it should have gone out for a vote. Baptist bought Fishermen’s Hospital just before the hurricane last year, they bought it with the full knowledge that it was a failing hospital. Baptist at first was asking for money to rebuild the hospital but then it became a question of helping to pay for uninsured patients. Again this is a known problem associated with any hospital in the country (speaks to our national problem of Healthcare).  

The Monroe County Board of County Commissioners has the authority to direct the Tourism Development Council and the funds it collects via the bed tax. The TDC advertises the Keys, supports cultural events, and funds the construction of brick-and-mortar projects. Please rank these three endeavors in order of importance.

The TDC is an important part of our economy and has been instrumental in keeping tourist coming here to the Keys. I do however at this time feel that the TDC should be more focused on Bricks and Mortar projects, especially in light of a Cat 4 Hurricane coming through the Keys. The recent allocations from the TDC all but ignored the county’s second district (the hardest hit by Irma). Next for me would be cultural events. These events are great for both the locals and for tourists. The TDC seems to manage this part the best.  

 

Editor’s note: Candidates’ answers appear as submitted.

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