Winning In Keys: School Tax, Building Height Raise

Nov 4, 2014

Since the half-cent sales tax was first approved 20 years ago Monroe County has rebuilt most of its schools including Horace O'Bryant Middle School in Key West.
Credit Nancy Klingener / WLRN

Voters in the Florida Keys Tuesday approved extending a half-cent sales tax for schools for another 10 years. The tax, expected to raise $157 million over the decade, will be used to build and refurbish schools and for technology upgrades.

Voter turnout was 56 percent, according to the Monroe County Supervisor of Elections Office.

"Traditionally the voters in Monroe County support their schools. I don’t think it was a referendum on the school board or the superintendent," said School Board member Andy Griffiths. The board is about to pay off the bond it took out when the tax was first approved 20 years ago.

"And with no mortgage payment, we're in very good shape with our fiscal needs for bricks and mortar," Griffiths said.

In Key West, voters approved by an overwhelming margin a referendum allowing buildings in flood zones to be raised up to 4 feet, to a maximum of 40 feet. The city underwent widespread flooding in Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

"This is a very proactive thing that we can do to protect our community for the longterm," said Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers, who was one of the founders of Fair Insurance Rates for Monroe (FIRM), a nonprofit that advocates for lower insurance rates for the Keys.

Having this option will help individual homeowners with insurance rates and also with the community rating for Key West, Carruthers said. She said it is unlikely to affect the historic fabric as some had feared.

"Most of the historic district is in an x flood zone, which means it’s above base flood elevation so the exception doesn’t even apply," she said. Historic preservation guidelines are still in place. And, "if elevating your house a foot or two is what takes it from being flooded and losing the house I think it’s a fair trade-off," she said.

In countywide races, Bonnie Helms was elected to a seat on the Monroe Circuit Court, defeating Jack Bridges 58 to 42 percent. Incumbent Monroe County Commissioner George Neugent was re-elected with 58 percent of the vote. And on the Mosquito Control Board both Republican candidates -- Phil Goodman and Tom McDonald -- won.

Voters in the Upper Keys village of Islamorada rejected a measure that would have limited new construction to 10,000 square feet except for "public and quasi-public uses."