MARATHON — Reflection on the past year often occurs at the start of a new year. Marathon leaders accomplished many goals in 2020, but some remain priorities for 2021, especially because some are dependent on state and federal action, including funding allocations.
A perpetual pursuit for the Marathon City Council is working to secure Florida Keys Water Quality Improvement Project funds from the federal government for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s 2,800 square nautical miles of nearshore water quality, as well as canal water quality and the Keys’ wastewater and stormwater systems.
Also always on the goals list is to continue fighting for home rule, including the city’s ability to change its ordinance for short-term vacation rentals. Some state legislators have pursued a one-size-fits-all approach for vacation rentals throughout Florida; however, even throughout the Keys, municipalities have instituted different rental rules that best fit their own communities — and thus far, they successfully have warded off state interference.
Another lingering pursuit carried over from a year ago is a court settlement or decision on the affordable units lawsuit case. The city supports the allocation of additional affordable permits to build homes for the Keys workforce.
“We are always striving for more affordable housing in Marathon,” said City Councilman Mark Senmartin a year ago.
At last count, Marathon had 547 affordable housing units, built or under construction, and an additional 428 units approved, but not started — many more than other Keys municipalities. With the additional building permits from the state, Marathon could keep its impressive track record moving forward.
The city also has had success in recouping some of the millions of dollars it spent on Hurricane Irma cleanup efforts after the September 2017 storm. According to Finance Director Jennifer Johnson, the city has received its share of reimbursement for work already completed ($14,839,513 received, with $2,276,836 still awaiting reimbursement). However, the city still has $9,817,293 of reimbursable work that has not yet been completed, and projects must be done to receive the reimbursement.
The city also has a project worksheet that has not yet been obligated by FEMA for $433,046 for repairs at various park locations throughout the city. That money will go a long way to proposed improvements, as Marathon has just a small pot of infrastructure funds for projects on its wish list, according to officials.
Councilman John Bartus previously pushed for residents’ input on what to do with the city's Quay property, which provides a public boat ramp at the northern end of town. Paving and parking delineations were achieved in 2020 and future ideas include a walking path, bathrooms and more foliage. There also might be a boardwalk, rebuilt lighthouses, boat slips and vendors.
Councilman Dan Zieg had sought to clean up the U.S. 1 corridor in Marathon by removing signs and rejuvenating some of the more weathered buildings, and adding vegetation to “soften our appearance.” He said the corridor is remarkably improved “but we still have a ways to go. New buildings have sprung up and the remodeling of old buildings throughout the town has improved dramatically our appearance. A year’s worth of rain has certainly made the vegetation flourish.”
Mayor Luis Gonzalez said among his 2021 goals is for residents to be safe in light of the current pandemic.
“The safer we are, the more productive we all are going to be, whether that is businesses, city government or the county at large," he said. "Love thy neighbor. With the vaccine rolling out, we can somewhat see the finish line of [2020’s challenges].”
Personally, he seeks to encourage the city council, administration and voters to work together to achieve the city’s goals, and Senmartin echoed that in his goals, saying it is his No. 1 priority and also agreed with the pandemic concern, saying, “I would love to see businesses recover ... so residents can get back to some sense of normalcy.”
Gonzalez also seeks programming at the Quay property such as sunset celebrations, arts in the park, or similar ideas with booths, vendors and food trucks.
Gonzalez would like the city to continue to provide more shade in the city’s parks for enhanced safety and enjoyment and pursue the plan created by former city manager Chuck Lindsey to move the Community Park skate park to a better location within that park so that an adjacent new splash pad could be supervised by park staff simultaneously. The city has agreed that continually replacing the wood ramps and features in the skate park should end and instead be replaced with concrete features to ameliorate upkeep, repair and replacement costs.
Senmartin, too, would like to see the splash park built before he terms out in November.
One other item that is long-awaited, Gonzalez said, is a kayak ramp on Grassy Key. He hopes that will move forward this year.
Lastly, the third-year elected official said he’d like to see the city, county and municipalities work together consistently, building on the cordial support best expressed during the yearly Florida Keys Days in Tallahassee. This should be pursued year-round, he said.
“Let’s build a cohesive partnership, work better together," he said.