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Increasing traffic and activity in Islamorada have council members mulling the addition of two deputies.

The number of law enforcement personnel assigned to the village has stayed relatively the same since a contract was put in place in 1987. With the addition of another marine officer on the water roughly six years ago, 18 members of the sheriff’s office patrol the village. 

Traffic has increased over time, and so has activity in neighborhoods with more vacation rentals and on the water with boat activity spiking. It’s led to patrol shifts, which are already thin, patrolling the Old Highway on busy weekends. Calls regarding the Fills and White Marlin Beach spiked in recent years. 

Sheriff Rick Ramsay told council members in a recent budget workshop that a lot has changed in the last 25 years to the point where “there is no more offseason.”

“We had a four-month lull of almost nothing happening. That doesn’t occur these days,” Ramsay said. “It’s a season for 12 months. The sheriff’s office has experienced, as we all know, more of a demand. We continue to take on more issues.”

If approved, the two deputies would be added during night shifts where more in-progress calls, domestic disputes and incidents of drunkenness are witnessed. Ramsay said the sheriff’s office added two deputies to the Key Largo and Lower Keys districts patrol division for similar reasons. Ramsay said the sheriff’s office can rely on other resources during daytime incidents, which are mainly crashes and heavy traffic. 

“At night, it’s not uncommon not to have a single (Florida Highway Patrol) trooper assigned to Monroe, which really makes it hard because we’re having to do the responsibility of the state on U.S. 1,” he said. “We see a need at night time and several council members asked us to add manpower.”

Councilman David Webb lauded the work of deputies and first responders who serve the Islamorada area. Webb inquired about vacancies within the sheriff’s office. Ramsay said staffing in Islamorada is almost full, but the jail system is down 30 officers and the Marathon district down four. 

While deputies love the community, training and other aspects, Ramsay said those who leave say they can’t afford the dream to live and raise a family in the Keys. 

“It’s realistic. We’re like Aspen. We’re like Vail. We’re like the Hamptons. But in those places, people can drive 30 minutes into work and drive home. Up here a large amount of staff come from Dade County.”

Ramsay said 65% to 70% of staff who work in the Upper Keys commute from Dade County. 

Unionized deputies didn’t receive a raise last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re slated to receive a 7.86% raise, while non-unionized members’ pay is proposed for a 5% increase. 

Costs in the village’s proposed budget for law enforcement services for the upcoming fiscal year is $2.3 million.

The fiscal year 2021-22 budget and 2021 final millage rate will be adopted during the budget hearings on Sept. 3 and Sept. 14  at 5:30 p.m. at the Founders Park Community Center and via a Zoom link.


Florida Keys Weekly

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