July 29, 2020

ISLAMORADA — Village officials will consider a pay hike for staff in fiscal year 2020-21 and curbing problems at the Fills when it holds three meetings this week.

The Islamorada Village Council has scheduled budget workshops for 3 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and a regular meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. All are virtual meetings.

The regular meeting agenda presents options for the Fills master plan, suggested as a way to curb congestion at the popular waterside vehicle pull-offs along U.S. 1 between mile markers 77.5 and 79.9. The Fills are owned by the state but managed under contract by the village.

Among the possibilities are barriers along U.S. 1 which range from a cable barrier at a cost of $322,000 for 14,000 linear feet to double that for a typical highway guardrail.

Additional options for enhancing safety at the Fills are gates at no-parking areas; signs with rules; paid parking via an app-based system; asphalt parking spaces with striping and signs; a no-swimming zone around the Indian Key boat ramp; a permanent boat ramp with launching dock that could possibly be grant-funded; bathrooms at each parking location; charcoal grills at populated areas (excluding Indian Key boat ramp); additional landscaping (a Florida Department of Transportation-funded project); vista/viewing lookout piers; pedestrian underpasses under the bridges; informational sign at Indian Key Fill boat ramp; and/or an access gate at the boat ramp with limited use from sunrise to sunset.

During this week’s budget workshops, the council will discuss staffing levels, employee compensation and the village’s various funds for fiscal year 2020-21, which begins Oct. 1.

Islamorada is proposing a property tax of 3.1 mills, or $310 per every $100,000 of assessed property value, which would generate $11,715,364. Total village revenues, including other funding sources, are expected to be $20.6 million, according to Finance Director Maria Bassett. The village’s millage rate can be decreased but not increased after this week’s hearings.

While the United States’ inflation rate for 2020 is .62% and the consumer price index increase was 2.3% from February 2019 to February 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, the village is proposing a 3.5% wage and salary increase for staff.

Additionally, there is a 5% pay increase for fire-rescue personnel and $15,828 in longevity bonuses for certain fire-rescue department staff, the most expensive department to operate according to the budget at $4.5 million annually. The next highest is law enforcement, at $2.23 million, which is provided under contract by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.

The fire department operates under a collective bargaining agreement, a written legal contract between the village and the union.

“We are pretty much always going to be the most expensive [department] due to 24/7 staffing and three stations to maintain, plus our rescues and apparatus are a few hundred thousand, and we have to prepare and train for all what-ifs identified in the village, as well as [cover] for our mutual aid partners,” Fire Chief Terry Abel said. “We do cost recovery through emergency services billing, plan reviews, inspections, etc. We are always chasing grants to help. All of that offsets some of the expenses to effectively run the department.”

The in-house village attorney department expenses are projected at $542,350, with $320,066 allocated to personnel and $222,284 for operations, which includes items such as litigation and travel. Attorney services were brought in-house years ago as a way to curb legal expenses. Marathon is to operate its in-house legal department at half that amount, according to 2020-21 projections.

jzima@keysnews.com