KEY WEST — Monroe County Commissioner Craig Cates did not attend last week’s regular commission meeting as he and his wife, Cheryl, had been hospitalized with COVID-19.
County Administrator Roman Gastesi initially said that Cates was “absent” from the meeting, and when asked about it, Gastesi cited medical privacy laws.
Cates issued a statement later that confirmed that he and his wife had recently contracted COVID-19 and had been hospitalized.
“Cheryl and I have tested positive for COVID,” the statement read. “We are currently under the care of a doctor in the hospital. We appreciate the incredible outpouring of support from the community. We ask for privacy as we continue to recover and rest. We send our prayers and best wishes to everyone affected by this virus.”
Cates did not say how he and his wife may have contracted the virus. Monroe County, Florida and the country are currently experiencing the biggest spikes in daily reported cases since the pandemic made its way to the United States last spring.
During last week’s meeting, the Monroe County Commission chose Michelle Coldiron as mayor and Commissioner David Rice as vice mayor.
Recently elected county commissioners Eddie Martinez and Mike Forster were formally sworn into office.
“You are being sworn into today, and you will be sworn at tomorrow,” Coldiron joked.
Rice reminded the new commissioners that they are not always going to vote the same but should respect each other’s decisions.
Forster chose Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority board member David Ritz to serve on the Monroe County Planning Commission and Martinez picked former County Commissioner George Neugent as his Planning Commission appointee.
Also on Tuesday, the commission received reports on the financial impacts of COVID-19 and the county’s ability to bond money for important projects such as combating sea level rise.
The commission discussed raising every property owner’s taxes by $94 a year, which could raise $100 million in the future for mitigation efforts. The commissioners discussed possibly putting the question to voters in an upcoming election.
The commissioners also discussed extending a sales tax and setting up individual taxing districts in specific neighborhoods to pay for sea level rise mitigation projects.
Since the pandemic, sales tax receipts have fallen 15% and gas tax collections have been down by 8%, but property values remain stable in Monroe County.
Taxes that pay the general fund of county day-to-day operations are paid through millage taxes based on property values.
Economist Hank Fishkind told the commission that the Keys are rebounding economically from the COVID-19 pandemic faster than other cities such as Orlando and Atlanta.
“This reflects how attractive the Keys are,” Fishkind said.