KEY WEST, FL – At its monthly meeting on Tuesday in Key West, the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners said goodbye to five-term Commissioner George Neugent, who did not seek re-election, and welcomed new Commissioner Michelle Coldiron, who was elected Nov. 6. Coldiron previously served as Mayor of the City of Marathon.
At the BOCC meeting, Coldiron and David Rice, who won re-election on Nov. 6, were sworn in by County Clerk of the Courts Kevin Madok.
Sylvia Murphy was chosen by the new Commission as its Mayor, and Danny Kolhage was selected as Mayor Pro Tem. The County Commission rotates those roles each year.
Neugent has worked with 14 Commissioners over the past two decades and said the current County Commission was the best he served on. He also praised his wife, Susie, and aide, Terry Colonna, who has been with him all 20 years of his service on the BOCC.
Neugent’s fellow Commissioners all praised him for his dedication to the County. Commissioner Heather Carruthers recalled the time Neugent slipped a presentation about FIRM’s fight for fair windstorm insurance on then-Governor Jeb Bush’s desk. Kolhage applauded him for his ability to bring home about $20 million in RESTORE Act funding for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 – which was millions more than was originally slated for the County.
Murphy said it was Neugent who helped convince her to run for the Commission and outgoing Mayor David Rice talked about his long friendship with Neugent that predated being on the County Commission together.
Neugent said he is proud of the many things he accomplished as a Commissioner, and with the help of his fellow Commission members, County staff and others. They include the near completion of a $1 billion central wasterwater system for the Keys, the renovation of the historic Old Seven Mile Bridge that leads to the County-owned Pigeon Key, the development of several County parks and his love of the special environment of the Keys – which drives its economy.
Neugent also provided steady leadership as Mayor in the preparation and response to Category 4 Hurricane Irma, the most destructive storm to strike the Keys since Hurricane Donna in 1960.
Here are some other highlights from the BOCC meeting:
COMMISSION APPROVED USING STEWARDSHIP ACT FUNDS ON CLEARING HURRICANE DEBRIS FROM UNPLUGGED CANALS, REMOVING SEDIMENT AND MONITORING
The Monroe County-led hurricane marine debris cleanup, paid for with funding from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, is “ahead of schedule and under budget,” Monroe County Sustainability Director Rhonda Haag told the Commission.
During the first 13 weeks of the 220-day project, 37 percent of the approved canals have been completed (64 of 172 canals). To date, the project has used only 20 percent of the grant funding for the marine debris cleanup ($9.1 million out of $45.8 million). The project is scheduled to end March 22, 2019, with nine crews working simultaneously in six geographical parts of the Keys to meet the deadline.
The project is less expensive than expected for the marine debris cleanup portion of the approved canals. It’s due to smaller amounts of debris being removed than was estimated after aerial surveys. Monroe County originally was expecting to pay up to $7.5 million for its 25 percent match of the cleanup in unincorporated Monroe County. Now, it appears the match will be about $3.5 million – paid for with a portion of its $5.5 million state Stewardship Act funding.
On Tuesday, the County approved using the remaining portion of that Stewardship Act funding for other marine debris cleanup not covered by the NRCS funding. This includes $100,000 for hurricane debris cleanup for some of the 13 plugged canals and $1.45 million for sediment removal. The Commission also approved up to $600,000 for additional monitoring services of the canal cleanup.
COMMISSION APPROVES $2.3 MILLION IN WRITE-OFFS FOR COUNTY RESIDENTS WHO WERE TRANSPORTED ON TRAUMA STAR TO LIFE-SAVING CARE IN MIAMI
The Commission approved a resolution that authorizes the write-off of $2.3 million for 177 Monroe County residents who qualified for the Trauma Star Air Ambulance Waiver Program from 2014 through August 2018. For the past decade, Monroe County residents have paid no out-of-pocket expenses for transport on Trauma Star to Miami hospitals to receive life-saving care not available on the island chain.
The Trauma Star program, a joint effort of Monroe County Fire Rescue and Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, is operating in the black despite no out-of-pocket costs for County residents. The program’s operational cost was $6.6 million for Fiscal Year 2018. With an aggressive in-house collection program, Trauma Star has collected $7.9 million in revenue with September collections to be added to that FY 18 tally. In FY 2017, Trauma Star also operated in the black with $5.6 million in revenues and $4.7 million in operation costs.
In 2017, the Trauma Star program purchased another Sikorsky helicopter and began operating out of a second location at the Lower Keys Medical Center, becoming the only air ambulance service in the County. This was done because the private air ambulance company operating in the Keys was charging up to $60,000 for transport and not writing off out-of-pocket costs for County residents.
The average billed amount for a transport to a mainland hospital is about $20,000 to $23,000 per trip. Trauma Star not only is saving County residents millions of dollars, but it also has saved the Keys’ tourists millions of dollars as well.
During the 2018 Fiscal Year that ended Sept. 30, Monroe County’s Trauma Star air ambulance program flew a record 987 patients to mainland hospitals. This is a significant increase from the 814 patients who were transported during the 2017 Fiscal Year.
COMMISSION APPROVED THREE AGENDA ITEMS REGARDING AFFORDABLE/WORKFORCE HOUSING
The Commission approved hiring consultant Hana Eskra for up to $49,999 with County funds. She will draft applications to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation for land acquisition and new construction of affordable workforce rental housing using federal Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery funding.
The Commission also approved reserving a total of 88 affordable housing ROGO allocations for two projects proposed for South Point Drive and Cypress Road on Sugarloaf Key. The developer, Lower Keys Community Center Corp., is proposing a project with 60 affordable housing units (27 low income and 33 moderate) on a parcel that allows up to 74 units under the current suburban commercial zoning, and 28 low income units on a site that allows up to 40 units. This type of zoning allows for commercial apartments for people who work on the site or for affordable employee housing.
The Commission has not approved these projects, but simply approved reserving the ROGO allocations so the developer can continue to seek tax credit financing. The projects still need to go through the entire process that includes public meetings and state approval.
The Commission also approved a waiver to certain inclusionary housing requirements for a condominium redevelopment project by the Residences at Ocean Reef. The 48-unit redevelopment in Ocean Reef requires the developer to provide 21 affordable housing units. Under the current regulations, the affordable housing units must be located in the same planning area (Upper Keys) as the redevelopment project.
The property owners requested to satisfy that requirement by linking to affordable housing projects in the Lower Keys due to the amount of housing lost in this area by Hurricane Irma. The Commission approved linkage to new affordable housing units proposed to be built in the Lower Keys by two non-profits, Habitat for Humanity of the Lower Keys and the Florida Keys Community Land Trust.