When we entered the new decade on January 1, 2020, Monroe County looked forward to building a resilient community. We never imagined how that would morph only two months into the year. There is nothing more important to our County staff than the health, safety, and wellbeing of our residents and visitors. Our staff, alongside our residents, learned what adaptation really means as we all navigated these challenging and uncertain times with innocence, innovation, and creativity. We continue to monitor the impacts of COVID-19, a global pandemic that has affected every facet of our lives, and go into 2021 with a renewed hope as we strive to enhance the quality of the lives of our citizens, business owners, and visitors.

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, I am proud of the work County staff completed this past year in addition to the day-to-day operations.

Emergency Management partnered with the Florida Department of Health Monroe County, community partners, and the municipalities and will continue to do so for the vaccination rollout. Activating for three storms this hurricane season, Solid Waste led a month-long cleanup in Key Largo following Tropical Storm Eta. Information Technology helped staff move to remote work, taught us how to Zoom, and helped automate services.

The Office of Sustainability and our County Commissioners continue to lead the country in climate change and sea-level rise adaptation conversations. To mitigate flooding issues, the Engineering and Roads Department tested temporary barrier systems in two Upper Keys neighborhoods, while repairing and replacing county-maintained roads and bridges throughout the county. Through the Community Rating System, Monroe County flood insurance policyholders continue to save approximately $5 million annually.

Facilities Maintenance always strives to maintain the highest cleaning standards at county-maintained properties and buildings and increased the frequency of our cleanings, especially in high traffic areas like our county parks, which we were able to keep open throughout the pandemic. Project Management continued capital projects at Marathon library, Planation Key Courthouse, and others with new protective measures in place. The airports, despite a decline in travel worldwide, thrived with new projects and even a COVID-19 germ-fighting robot and is leading the nation in rebounding from the pandemic.

Legislatively, the County allocated millions of CARES Act dollars to local renters, homeowners, small businesses, and nonprofits. Budget and Finance simultaneously advocated for reimbursements of storm-related expenses while producing and administering the $460.3 million FY21 budget. Social Services, Veterans Affairs, and Guardian ad Litem advocated for our most vulnerable residents, many of whom are in even greater need due to the pandemic.

Being on the frontline of COVID-19, Monroe County Fire Rescue and Trauma Star continued to provide a record number of lifesaving services and flights to the mainland, all while transporting our residents with no out-of-pocket costs. Fire Rescue also graduated its third “Hot Shots” class waiving tuition fees for residents at its fire training academy.

From Ocean Reef to Key West, our services continued. Building permits were issued without physical contact. Planning and Environmental developed new technology for damage assessments after storms and implemented mobile marine sewage pumpouts to protect our marine environment. Code Compliance focused on illegal vacation rentals, sewer hookups, unsafe structure abatement, and illegal clearing of our critical habitat. Fleet continued maintenance of county vehicles. Safety procedures were put into place by Employee Services to keep our employees healthy and County services in operation. The County Attorney’s office stayed fully engaged. The Extension Service continued seamlessly with virtual classes. And our five libraries stayed open for call-in/pick-up/drop-off activities, proving they are community resource centers, even virtually.

In my 30 years of public service, five major hurricanes, an oil spill, flesh-eating flies, and several other public health emergencies, 2020 was by far the most challenging. Despite its uncertainty, our purpose remains steady, Monroe County is committed to creating a better life, every day, for everyone in the Florida Keys. In 2021, Monroe County will continue to have open and courageous communication to help you in your decisions regarding your family and work life. We will be here for you. This is a community we can all be proud of and we will continue to strive to make our island home a safe place to live, work, and play.

Cheers in paradise,

Roman Gastesi

Monroe County Administrator