Approving a $171 million budget for the city of Key West was easy compared to the political dust-up this week over a $20,600 request from managers of the island’s only homeless shelter.City commissioners tussled over allegations from one member that the nonprofit running the homeless shelter, the Southernmost Homeless Assistance League, is overstepping its bounds by providing services to the poor outside the scope of the overnight bunkhouse.
The $20,600 request is to rent a modest office in Key West for $500 a month and the rest to help match homeless men and women’s savings so they can afford plunking down first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit, the norm on the expensive island for getting into an apartment.
Commissioner Sam Kaufman, an attorney with ties to the nonprofit that ran the shelter before SHAL, tried to stop the expenditure but his motion was defeated 5-2.
Key West’s budget is unchanged from the first budget hearing this month except for $148,800 the commission agreed to give to the Florida Keys SPCA to help build its new $8.4 million shelter to replace the one that floods during a rainstorm.
“The other night we voted to give $150,000 to house animals and we’re fighting over $20,000 for people?” Commissioner Clayton Lopez said Thursday at Old City Hall. “Wow.”
Mayor Craig Cates added, “Exactly.”
Kaufman, who started the shelter fight a couple weeks ago by writing a letter critical of SHAL’s plans to serve meals at the shelter, said that isn’t the case.
“We’re talking about being conservative with taxpayer money,” said Kaufman, who is also board chairman of the nonprofit that opened and ran the homeless shelter before 2011.
SHAL stepped in after Kaufman’s group, the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition, killed its contract with the city — giving two weeks notice — in light of a lawsuit by condo owners who wanted the shelter relocated.
The Outreach Coalition gave the shelter its name, KOTS — Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter. But SHAL gave the shelter better management, the mayor said.
“They do an incredible job and they’ve lowered the costs every year and the place is way better than it ever was before,” Cates said. “There’s bad blood there from your organization.”
“Absolutely not,” Kaufman replied. “I don’t know why you’re making this personal.”
The $148,800 for the animal shelter comes from the city’s BP settlement money. It was approved by the commission Tuesday after a lengthy battle by a 4-3 vote. Kaufman voted for it.
Tax rate finalized
The commission on Thursday approved the new budget, which starts Oct. 1, without raising the city’s portion of property tax bills by tapping three days worth of reserve funds, leaving enough savings to run the city for 89 days rather than 92 in case of a disaster.
They set the tax rate at rollback, or $248 per $100,000 of assessed valuation, to generate $15.2 million for general operating expenses. On a home worth $460,000, the owner would pay $1,145 in city taxes in 2016-17.
Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen