September 30, 2017

The Monroe County Commission agreed Wednesday to raise property taxes in unincorporated areas of the Florida Keys by roughly 3.8 percent for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

The commission voted 4-1 on the tax rate and budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year, with Commissioner Danny Kolhage dissenting.

Kolhage said he had been thinking about how to vote for several days.

“I have great trouble raising taxes in this situation,” Kolhage said, referring to residents losing the homes in Hurricane Irma. “The people in the most affected areas are being taxed based on evaluations done Jan. 1 this year and now are sitting on nothing. We can’t do anything about that. The same people will have to pay the additional $3 million and this is not the time to do that.”

Commissioner Heather Carruthers said she acknowledged Kolhage’s concerns but contended that homesteaded property owners would actually see a lower tax bill in the upcoming fiscal year and the storm is putting huge financial demands on the county.

The commission raised the property tax but residents with homestead exemptions will actually pay slightly less and those without will pay slightly more, according to the Monroe County Property Appraiser’s Office.

The owner of a $400,000 home with a homestead exemption will pay $5 less than he or she paid this fiscal year and the owner without a homestead evaluation will pay $196 more, according to the property appraiser’s office.

The 3.8 percent increase will allow the county to increase its general operating budget from $80.9 million this fiscal year to roughly $84.9 million in the fiscal year next year.

Also on Wednesday, the County Commission:

– agreed to spend $1 million in Tourist Development Council funds for television, radio, internet and print media to promote the Keys in such areas as New York City, Chicago and parts of Florida following Hurricane Irma.

– agreed to postpone levying bed tax on transient rental units that accommodate residents displaced by Hurricane Irma. The postponement will last at least six months.

– agreed to temporarily waive some building fees.

The commission also gave the city of Key West one year to remove the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter (KOTS) on Stock Island near the Monroe County jail. The request came after Sheriff Rick Ramsay told the commission he wants to use the property for housing for deputies and other county workers.

Mayor Craig Cates had presented a letter to the county that stated the city wants to leave KOTS where it is for the foreseeable future.

tohara@keysnews.com