Time to search out other money

By Steve Estes

As if just managing day-to-day operations for a county that is more than 100 miles in length with a transportation system dependent on more than 40 bridges, a water system tied to a dedicated water source by a single pipe and a power grid fed by single high-power lines spanning more than 130 miles, weren’t enough, 2014 will prove to be a watershed year for Monroe County officials.

For this is the year Monroe County officials must get serious about protecting our island chain from runaway gentrification.

Over the last year, long-time residents and newcomers alike have been pelted by a host of unanticipated costs, proposed or actual, to remain living somewhere many of us call paradise but is still one of the most expensive places in Florida to call home.

Our unique stature as a total island community brings with it the known costs, such as finite land that sometimes artificially jacks up home costs, the costs to transfer potable water and electrical power to the “end of the road.”

It also brings with it costs caused by an erroneous perception of who and what we are.

The Keys were founded by people who wanted nothing more than to escape from the daily rat race “up there” and survive on the easy island life.

But as transportation became easier and the trappings of civilization became more dependable, more and more people discovered what many of us had already known—the Keys is just a great place to live.

Of course, the good property values attracted those who care little for the island way of life except for the leverage it gives with borrowed money.

And the gentrification of our island chain began.

As the rest of the state, and even country, looked on in envy, a perception began to creep in that since our homes were worth more than the average elsewhere, we were all filthy rich and living the good life.

Perception is not reality.

So the state-run windstorm insurer of last resort, actually our insurer of only resort, thought nothing of jacking up our mandated windstorm insurance rates to the highest level in Florida, even though we received less in payback than anyone else.

After all, they thought, we could afford it.

And now we are beset by a potential catastrophic rise in flood insurance rates, again though we pay some of the highest premiums in the state already, and again receive much less in payouts.

After all, they think, we can afford it.

The state mandated we upgrade our wastewater systems, and then left us out of the funding mix for years.

After all, they thought, we could afford it.

So the residents put the system on their backs and did what hardy island folk do—coped.

Now we learn that many of us will spend thousands in lateral line installations in the next two years, and while there is some grant money, there is nowhere near enough for the retirees who forged communities here when little but pirates, smugglers and mosquitoes could be found.

There are monies out there. We have a good county government staff in many levels.

We have an elected leadership that has shown more concern for the common man than its predecessors.

So we need the policy makers to make it clear to the nuts-and-bolts folks who draw paychecks from our tax dollars that finding someone’s money but ours to mitigate for flood insurance costs by raising homes above flood plain is a priority.

We need our policy makers to put all possible weight behind the effort to control, and even roll back, windstorm insurance costs, and help with finding funding to do so.

We need our policy makers to make sure our staff leaves no stone unturned in the search for other money to aid those who need the help in sewer lateral installation costs.

We need our policy makers to make sure staff leaves no stone unturned in finding other money to help us buy environmentally sensitive lands.

And the time to wait is over.

This coming year promises to be one that could show us our way forward with a bright future, or show many of us the door, unable to maintain our ever-increasing cost of living in paradise.

When the old guard is gone, so is the island flavor.

When the new guard is gone, so is the work force that the elite who will be all that’s left need to enjoy the island flavor.

When the future guard stays away,the island flavor is gone.

There are great grant writers available. Let’s find one, or two, maybe three.

Our island flavor might well depend on it.


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