Entertain quality-of-life thoughtsBy Steve Estes
Now that the infrastructure sales tax has passed and will be extended for another 15 years, it’s time to turn our attention back to some of the nagging issues we haven’t dealt with in the last five years as we remained focused on pumping poop.
Economic recovery in the Florida Keys is well ahead of where it is in the rest of Florida, and we can thank our lack of corporate entities for that. Our economy is founded on the small business catering to the tourist trade and to the local population.
If the visitors need the service, it will survive. If the locals need the service, it will survive.
Most experts agree that our housing market has probably hit bottom and is beginning the long, slower, climb back up.
That’s not to say everything is rosy on the economic front, but the indicators for us are far outpacing the indicators in the rest of the state where continued tax cuts and Draconian spending cuts have all but sent the economy of Florida backward.
So as we breath small sighs of relief and wait with less anxiety for the predicted re-collapse, we can ask our leadership to again turn their thoughts to things other than pumping poop.
And here in the Lower Keys that includes so many things.
The last major quality-of-life expenditure that was made in the Lower Keys was the construction of the Big Pine Community Park. That was followed by the replacement of the nearly condemned fire station.
And then came the need to figure out a way to pump poop, and quality-of-life issues went way back on the rear burner—with no heat.
So as the holiday season begins, let’s start to put together a wish list of those things we have long talked about and never acted upon.
If we go back to the early days of planning for the Big Pine Community Park, we dig up Phase Two plans that call for the installation of a pier into the water to allow for sightseeing, maybe fishing, and just a nice experience.
Now we can add to that a request of the county’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board to have staff check into the feasibility of developing a beach at the community park.
The best thing about both of those items on a wish list is that they can probably be developed without using sales tax money.
We can also add to the list a long-sought-after resolution to getting local traffic off US 1. We do not advocate taking another look at Lytton’s Way west of Key Deer Blvd. But we’re not beyond suggesting another look at Lytton’s Way east of Key Deer Blvd. and a hard look at the counter-flow access road parallel to US 1 that was delineated in the Corridor Enhancement Plan approved by the county nearly a decade ago.
That would serve, with the addition of the wraparound road that was supposed to be built behind the new Walgreen’s, to allow nearly all local traffic to avoid US 1 during rush times like Fantasy Fest week, Christmas week, and general holiday weekends when traffic backs up at the light for miles.
And neither should we forget the gateway park that was included in that same Corridor Enhancement Plan at the west end of Big Pine at the site of the old swimming hole.
Officials have already determined that such a passive park can be built and maintained by using bed tax monies, allowing our tourists to pay for the whole thing.
Of course, we would be remiss to leave out the parks board’s request that staff study the feasibility of adding a new boat ramp at the old swimming hole location. Monroe County has more registered boats per capita than any other place in the state. It’s our opinion that we can never have too many boat ramps.
And if you’ve ever been close to a boat ramp during lobster mini-season or opening day of lobster season, or just the first calm day after a week of high winds, you would probably agree with that assessment.
The county plans to embark on a strategic planning process in the next couple of months that will give benchmarks for employee performance.
And we expect to see a prioritized list of needed capital projects beyond wastewater in the coming months as we have an extra 15 years of infrastructure sales tax money.
Roads and bridges must be first.
But quality-of-life projects can find a home in small chunks.
Now we just need a push from our elected officials to make that happen.