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The Florida Keys are considering changing their form of government. Why?

 A crowd watches the sunset from Mallory Square in Key West.<br/>
Matias J. Ocner
The Miami Herald
A crowd watches the sunset from Mallory Square in Key West.

Monroe County is considering a measure for the 2024 general election ballot that would change its form of government. It’s a way of getting much-needed funding for infrastructure projects in the Florida Keys.

For months, county officials have been working to draft an 11-page proposal alongside a question to adopt the charter they hope will be put on the 2024 general election ballot.

Of the 67 counties in Florida, only 20 of them are governed with county charters in place, according to Kurt Spitzer, former Executive Director of the Florida Association of Counties. Spitzer has spent the last 34 years consulting Florida municipal and county governments on redistricting and adopting charters through his company, Kurt Spitzer and Associates.

Now, he’s helping in the Florida Keys.

“For non-charter counties like Monroe, right now, the structure of the county commission, its relationship to the executive branch of government, things like that are fixed by the state in large part,” Spitzer said. “For charter governments, you can make changes to the structure of the commission.”

READ MORE: "The $2.8 Billion Plan To Protect Keys From Flooding Now Includes Raising Homes, Floodproofing — But No Buyouts"

There are two ways that county charters can be drafted. One is by creating a charter commission that is appointed by the county commission. The other way is for the county commission to develop and place the charter question on the ballot itself. Monroe county is currently in the middle of the latter process.

One of the most appealing benefits of adopting a charter for Monroe County officials is the ability to institute an infrastructure sales tax. The tax would subsidize infrastructure projects, namely raising roads efforts, currently struggling to secure proper funding.

“Some of that money would be shared with [Monroe] municipal governments as well,” Spitzer said.

Other powers the charter would give Monroe County voters include being able to recall a county commissioner from office and initiating petitions to make amendments to the charter, said Spitzer.

In most cases, he said, charters are passed in Florida the first time they are considered.

“I think generally speaking the charter gives the electors of the county a greater ability to decide themselves how they want to structure their government, and then it gives them greater input into that process in the future,” he said. So I think that's probably why it usually passes.”

The charter proposal is being spearheaded by County Attorney Bob Shillinger. He told the county commission last month during a meeting that he believes the new form of government would better represent Conchs’ interests.

“If we got an unfriendly special act coming out of Tallahassee at some point in our future, they couldn't force it on us without the voters voting on it,” he said at the meeting.

However, there isn’t consensus over the charter among Monroe County government leaders and worries over the charter possibly preempting municipal powers remain.

“I find myself extremely torn,” Mayor Holly Raschein said last month. “There’s still a lot of questions out there.”

Copyright 2023 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Julia Cooper