Candidates vying for the open seats on Marathon’s City Council gathered on Sept. 30 to tackle a wide variety of issues, in a forum presented by the Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce and the Weekly Newspapers. Each candidate was offered the chance to answer 12 questions designed to show their insight on the issues foremost in the minds of Marathon residents. The questions and candidates’ responses are below; please note that answers have been edited for length. For a full recording of the forum, please visit monroe-fl.vod.castus.tv/vod.

The Questions:

  1. The Fishermen’s Community Hospital special taxing district was put in place in 2018. This is to be reviewed and renewed every year. Has Baptist fulfilled its obligation with this, and should you be elected, would you vote to continue this special taxing district?
  2. Are you in favor of charging visitors usage fees for our boat ramps, and do you have any other solutions to better manage public access to the water?
  3. Public transportation seems to have regressed and is not meeting the needs of many of our workers and businesses who rely on the labor force from Homestead and Florida City. Would you advocate for additional stops within our city to better accommodate workers? Also, would you consider alternative means of transportation to lessen vehicles on U.S.1? If so, what are they?
  4. Given the vacation rental (VR) situation, are you in favor of trying to put a cap on VRs, and would you consider having our City Attorney write a letter to the State Attorney General to get a formal legal opinion on our city’s ability to amend our VR ordinance, which would then potentially allow us to cap VRs?
  5. What affordable housing efforts has the city implemented that have been successful? Moving forward, what are some initiatives, programs or ideas you have to improve our current workforce housing situation?
  6. What are your thoughts on city staff members receiving severance packages that the city was not contractually obligated to provide but did so upon the request of those former employees, again given that it involves taxpayers dollars?
  7. Beautification is a topic that continually comes up within our city. What are some initiatives you would support or start to improve the many still-dilapidated properties on U.S.1, as well as the DOT contractor underperformance issues that result in a less than desirable U.S.1 right-of-way?
  8. In 2017, a non-binding referendum passed by voters for the city to research the costs and viability of a community pool. However, the city is currently planning for a splash pad.  Which community asset would you prefer to support: a community pool or splash pad?
  9. What are your top three priorities once elected?
  10. Our historic 7 Mile Bridge will reopen in early to mid 2022. How can Marathon capitalize on this $77 million investment made by the state, county and our city, which has a $5M stake?

GREG COLDIRON

  1. The short answer is yes. We simply can’t live here without a hospital. I own a lot of workforce housing here in Marathon. I bought blighted, abandoned properties and rehabbed them and turned them into true workforce housing. So I pay more property taxes than most people. Yet I supported the hospital financially and lobbied and supported the special taxing district.
  2. Obviously we have to have boat ramps. The city council has proposed a $50 in and out fee per visiting boat. If you go anywhere around the country, that’s what it’s going to cost you. And it should be free to the locals. I think the city council proposed a $10 per year sticker or something, which is basically an administrative fee. So I’m all in favor of that. We have a lot of expenses with those ramps, but we should be trying to recoup part of that money. That’s the way to go: free for locals, a fee for everybody else.
  3. I would be in favor of a local bus transport system that goes to all resorts, all of our tourist stops, restaurants and other places people want to go. It should be free of charge. Unfortunately, you know busing people in is going to be part of our workforce housing. Why not make those comfortable so people can be productive with their laptop computers? There are some real solutions we can put in place for this; we need to quit kicking the can down the road.
  4. Vacation Rentals have been a double edged sword. It’s made it more difficult to live here and raise a family, but property owners certainly have rights also. There is something called home rule, which we can’t seem to get through the legislature. This past year, we couldn’t even get it out of a committee. Having said that, what we can do is enforce our existing ordinance. There should be a 24-hour rental agent with a complaint number that someone actually answers. If that doesn’t work, there’s supposed to be a code enforcement person that answers the phone. That doesn’t seem to be working. We shouldn’t be forced to call the sheriff’s department. I mean, really, does a three bedroom house need six dually pickup trucks and four watercraft trailers? We need to enforce our existing vacation rental ordinance.
  5. We’ve had some successes, but they’ve really been few and far between. We want workforce housing. We don’t want to build places for people to come down here and live without being productive members of our community. Whatever permits are left should be awarded to construction entrepreneurs. I would argue that none of us here tonight can survive in Marathon unless our middle class thrives.
  6. I’m a little unclear, but did we have a prenuptial agreement with these employees? This sounds like a quasi legal question. Most of the time, discussions like this are held in executive committee meetings with city council members making decisions on these. I don’t know all the facts about each one of these individuals. But I do trust that we have a pretty good City Council, and a lot of businessmen that are on that council. I do trust that they probably made a fair and just and correct decision.
  7. We’ve really got to clean up our act if we want to be anything other than a pit stop between here and Key West.  The landscaping is something that we need to put a lot of effort into. We need better code enforcement. I mean, when’s the last time we looked at the old Burger King building? That’s code enforcement issues. That has a lot to do with the beautification of Marathon as we’re not doing a good job with the tools that we already have.
  8. With me, the trouble is that pools are dangerous, expensive, they have to be staffed, there’s a lot of maintenance, a lot of chemicals, and they’re not very green. The 500-pound gorilla in the room for the swimming pool is liability insurance. Marathon would have to self-insure and take that risk. One catastrophic accident could bankrupt our town. I think a splash pad is a great idea and a good compromise. It can be used almost every day of the year.
  9. I wish to be better acquainted with all the department heads and better understand what they believe their mission is. I need to know their wants and needs. Department heads need to be provided the tools necessary to effectively do their jobs and complete their missions. I will also follow through with the City Council’s recent promises to more effectively facilitate and enforce our existing vacation rental ordinances. I would like to meet one on one with the city manager, City Council and department heads to discuss my ideas for whatever remaining affordable housing building permits we have.
  10. I think we’re all in agreement that the Seven Mile Bridge is a treasure. It should be a national monument, and when it reopens it will be one of the best parks in the whole country. We also have that park on the Atlantic side of the Seven Mile Bridge with the boarded up bathrooms. I think that we should invest in renovating that area.

LYNNY DEL GAIZO

  1. I agree that we do need the hospital for personal health and for visitors. I think we need to keep a good eye on the finances every year. I think I would keep my eye on the taxes for the people who don’t have insurance. But I think it’s good to have it. I was for it; I went to all the fundraisers. I just think we should see how much we are spending on people that don’t have insurance and re-look at it every year. 
  2. The ramps are overcrowded. I’m all for charging the people visiting our boat ramps. There’s nothing wrong with that. For the locals who live here, maybe we could charge $10 per year to help with keeping those ramps in good shape along with charging the tourists to come and drop their boat off. I say charge to at least restore those boat ramps and keep them safe and in good working order.
  3. I remember when I could play football on U.S.1 during the offseason. But now I see a lot of work vehicles on the road. As far as the workforce coming down, I don’t think we need to have a triple decker bus, but I would like a nice bus for them. As far as getting around town, I know our taxis work with locals, give good rates, and work with the hotels and bars and restaurants to give lower rates for their employees. 
  4. We’re unified as locals on the issues of vacation rentals. They bring us business, but have affected our neighborhoods. My biggest thing is the management of them. The managers get paid 20% to handle them; I just want them to enforce the rules that we already have in place. I don’t like that I’ve had to bring in barrels every day from my neighbors that rent, but I also know that the cleaning business is making $30 an hour to clean those instead of the $5 or $10 they were making 15 years ago. I don’t want to cite everyone, but I want compliance.
  5. I know that when people ask about workforce housing, they’re not really talking about living in an apartment. They want a home to raise their family. What I would like to see is more Habitat for Humanity that makes this viable, or maybe a corporation or construction company that builds a four-plex or townhouse of some kind because they don’t cost as much to build. Either we refurbish some of the old homes and the places on the other end of town, or build little homes on stilts, 2/2s for the workforce. A workforce just doesn’t want to live in an apartment. Help them get the first time homeowner’s loan and help them get into these homes. 
  6. How did that happen? It was nice of you to do that. In general, if this was written up ahead of time, like a prenuptial, I understand that there’s nothing you can do about that. But no, I’m not for it, especially if it’s taxpayers’ money and they paid for it after the fact.
  7. I’m a little frustrated by the arguments that stop the city from fixing up these center medians. I like those beautiful palm trees they have down in Key West. As far as fixing up some of the buildings, I’m all for that. Take care of people that live down here; turn them into little businesses or make them into little homes. Let’s not talk about it anymore; let’s just do it. I’ll go out there and plant.
  8. I will admit I did not vote for the pool when it was on the ballot. I like the parks and the green space, but I think we can do more with what we have. For example, Marathon Community Park’s amphitheatre could benefit from a concert promoter. I know so many locals who travel to Key West to go to the concerts that are owned by the city, or the splash pad. If you ask me if I like the pool or the splash pad, a few years later, my answer would be the splash pad. When people pay taxes, they want to see what they’re getting for their money. So I personally think that we need to make more fun things to do. 
  9. I’ve already started meeting with staff and talking to see what their positions are and what they do. The first thing would be to create those relationships with community members and listen to the challenges dealing with the city, like workforce housing, development issues, and city contracts. I think sometimes my biggest thing, especially being a Realtor and working with first time homeowners, is permitting. Shorten that list, make it better for the people who grew up here and live here. 
  10. I actually had my first kiss under the bridge and took my driving test on the old Seven Mile Bridge. I can’t wait for it to open, and we do have the best sunsets. It draws people no matter what, whether you’re going by boat or riding over it. I think an idea of a nice park at the end is a great idea as well. Let’s open it up.

LUIS GONZALEZ

  1. I’ve always been a supporter of the hospital. They did have a little issue this year. The issue was fixed. I will look at the financial report, and I will continue supporting the hospital. We can’t survive without a hospital, not only for our residents, but for our visitors. Being part of the hospital facility with our tax money gives us the opportunity to interject when there’s an issue. We have some skin in the game.
  2. I am in favor of putting a fee on our boat ramps. We have requested from staff the development of a fee structure, and along with the fee structure for the use of the boat ramps, we want to know how they’re going to operate. Part of the plan is also to have the local residents exempt from a fee for launching. 
  3. I would fully support doing research to see if we can sustain a city bus service. I think it’s essential. We have enough businesses that we have a huge workforce. I think we need to explore the possibility of a city bus service that runs a loop within the town to accommodate the workers that are coming from the north. Unfortunately, we are dependent on workers coming down from Dade County, and we should provide some type of transportation to get them to their next stop from the Kmart parking lot.
  4. Vacation rentals are definitely an economic engine that help tremendously in this community. It’s a big trickle down effect. But we have a responsibility to our neighborhoods, and for our residents, their quality of life is important. We have to increase enforcement at the city level. The bottom line is that the code department needs to work with the rental agents and hold them accountable. They’re the ones that are reaping the profits. They’re the ones that need to be accountable for the destruction that the tenants are causing.
  5. The city of Marathon has done a lot. We currently have 775 units on the ground. I think that is spectacular. I think we’re probably amongst the leaders in this county. I would like to see a good portion of the allocations we have saved for Habitat for Humanity, because they truly work for affordable homeownership. And as a city as a community, we need to support organizations like Habitat for Humanity, because those are the ones that provide roots in the ground.
  6. We did have several employees that left that were awarded severance packages. One of those employees worked tirelessly for the city for multiple years and always forgave additional benefits for himself personally because he felt that he shouldn’t get something that he wasn’t giving to his staff. Based on what he relayed to all of us, we all felt that not only did he deserve it, but he stayed on afterwards pretty much as a consultant. So therefore, I voted in favor of giving that severance package.
  7. I know staff is currently working with the owners of dilapidated buildings. And that’s something that we need to keep pressure on because those buildings need to come up to standards. As far as the corridor is concerned, we currently have a grant writer who is seeking funds for improvements. I would like to see the Community Image Advisory Board reestablished and partner with the Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce. We have to remember that our city limits start on the west side of the Tom’s Harbor Bridge, and end on the east side of the Seven Mile Bridge. We need to improve the corridor from one area to the other.
  8. The splash pad is something that I want to see move forward. The referendum question of the pool came up in 2017. It did win, but it won by a slight margin of about 1%. Therefore, I think a true question needs to be put out to referendum at the next midterm election that reads, “Would you be in favor of contributing to the building and operation of a community pool on your tax bill?” Until then, I am not in favor.
  9. Priority number one is to continue to work on our legislative priority, which is the protection of home rule to let us continue to drive our ship. Continue lobbying for more stewardship dollars, which help us continue the repairs of our storm and sewer upgrades. And priority number three would be to aggressively protect the ability to control our vacation rental policies.
  10. We all cannot wait for that bridge to be done. Especially me, because I hear about this on a daily basis from my wife. The city really should take the driver’s seat in this, take over the park at the bottom of the bridge, and work with the county on some type of event structure that would allow nightly sunset celebrations there. We have the best spot in the Keys, and we need to take advantage of it.

TREVOR WOFSEY

  1. My understanding was that in the beginning, they called it an indigent care taxing district. I thought I heard that it was being used as skin in the game for building the new hospital. It left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths with the confusion in the beginning. They did a beautiful job. We definitely need the hospital. I’ve been there, I take my kids there. The staff is fantastic. We will review their financials yearly. And we’ll take it from there.
  2. Boat ramps are a necessity on our island. Boat ramps are also an issue in this town. It doesn’t matter where they are. Along U.S.1 or behind the airport, they cause traffic jams and backups into the community. The only logical way to fix that is more boat ramps. We just don’t have enough. In order to do that, we need to charge user fees, but not for locals. But I’m a working guy, I don’t even own a boat. What the hell do I know?
  3. Public transportation is very important for lower income people. A lot of people don’t have cars or driver’s licenses. I’d be very interested in a study being done locally to see if public bus service would be beneficial to the community. With less housing here down in the Keys, we have a lot of workers coming down from Miami, and I see that increasing over the years. We definitely need to explore every option possible.
  4. I’m tired of hearing we can’t fix the vacation rental problem. Vacation rentals play a very important role in our community. But we need to enforce the rules on the books to make sure our neighborhoods’ quality of life doesn’t suffer. When we finally get a chance to make our own rules again, we can then talk about maybe putting a cap on them or any number of other possible solutions. Right now the best and most efficient use of our time to solve this problem is to enforce the existing rules.
  5. I don’t think the phrase affordable housing means anything to anyone anymore. No one knows what it means; it’s lost its definition. I’m concerned about housing for people who live and work here. We need more housing, but I’m not in favor of another layer of bureaucracy in this city to build and manage it. For right now, we need to enable private industries to step up to build housing. The city shouldn’t build it, but should help get it built. The single most important thing we can do first is to raise the transfer fee of a transferable building right back to $16,000 to discourage people from buying an affordable property, tearing it down, and transferring that right to a waterfront lot to build another vacation rental.
  6. I seriously have to look at that one because you don’t give regular employees bonuses for leaving their job. I don’t agree with that. If you’re a contracted employee, you get to pick your terms when you get hired. That should have been in there. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
  7. We definitely need to draw new businesses in town. There’s a lot of empty buildings. I would love to see a beautifully landscaped U.S.1. We have the Community Image Advisory Board and city staff. They should be working together to bring good recommendations to the council. The council should not be spending their time at public meetings deciding what flowers to plant in the median. The Chamber of Commerce offers beautification grants to businesses; I think that’s a great idea. Maybe the city could work with the chamber to enhance this program.
  8. If done properly, a pool or splash pad can happen and be a great asset and benefit to the city. I don’t want to burden the taxpayers of our city, but there are other funding mechanisms for community goals. There’s grant money, TDC money, and user fees. There are responsible ways to do this. People voted for this pool, and won.
  9. One, start with listening to the community and taking in their concerns. Number two, maybe we need to look at the code enforcement officer to regulate the vacation rentals and other problems around town. Number three, I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the building and permitting department and make sure we get that straightened away for our contractors.
  10. I can’t wait for this new bridge to open. It’s one of the highlights of visiting our city, and our visitors and residents haven’t been able to enjoy it for many years now. I would like to see a sunset celebration. We have one of the best views in the world. If we can capitalize on that, it would be a wonderful thing for the city.

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Hailing from Rhode Island, the Ocean State, Alex has always spent as much of his life as possible in and around the water. A dolphin trainer by profession, he still spends most of his free time diving, spearfishing, and JetSkiing. Once it gets too dark for those things, he can usually be found at the Marathon Community Theater, where he spends most nights still trying to figure out what the heck he is doing.