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Achieving liftoff for the “Big Dig” sea level rise project remains the top priority for Key Biscayne said Mayor Joe Rasco, delivering his state of the Village address on the cusp of a major project vote a week from now. 

He confirmed after the speech he would seek reelection.

Rasco’s address contained no major new initiatives, but it stressed a number of longer-term projects. He spoke of securing more playing fields, installing artificial turf on the leased soccer field at St. Agnes Catholic Church, and continued work with Miami-Dade County to replace the Bear Cut Bridge.

“I am pleased to announce that the state of the Village is good – strike that – is great,” Rasco said in a nearly hourlong speech that was equal measure victory lap, campaign speech and humor. Rasco was elected in 2022, returning to the mayoral office he held in 1998.

He lauded the current Council and Village Manager Steve Williamson, saying they can bring to fruition the resiliency project that would replace the stormwater system, bury utility lines and fortify the island against future sea level rise.

“It is with this outstanding Council that we are executing on the necessary infrastructure work to address the critical needs of our island paradise,” he said.

The Council is in for a makeover, though, by year’s end. Vice Mayor Allison McCormick and Council Member Brett Moss are prohibited from seeking reelection because of term limits. Council Member Frank Caplan said on Wednesday he is still deciding.

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Rasco got the crowd chuckling with references to the Village’s war on the iguanas, thanking residents for giving him “constructive” feedback and talking about Key Biscayne’s surprisingly robust new program honoring centenarians. “God bless them for hanging in there,” he said.

He outlined the fiscal health of the Village, noting that Key Biscayne has $20 million in reserves and debt capacity of $92 million while landing $10 million in various grants in the last year. 

He noted that the island has the lowest property tax rate of any municipality in Miami-Dade County – though property taxes did increase about 9% last year (for non-homesteaded property owners) because property values rose. 

“What that means is that we are in the strongest financial position in our Village’s history,” Rasco said.

As for successes, Rasco touted the traffic flow improvements on Crandon Boulevard due to the new right turn lane onto Harbor Drive and the new left turn lane into the Key Colony condominium complex. He said the Village has undertaken stopgap flood mitigation and made golf cart, e-bike and scooter safety a priority. 

He said the Village will continue to oppose any commercial development on Virginia Key – which got applause in the Island Room of the Community Center.

Rasco said that the Village is working with the County to eventually replace the 78-year-old Bear Cut Bridge, noting Mayor Daniella Levine Cava’s recent announcement of a $5 million environmental study sets the stage to obtain state and federal funding. “Not only do we have a seat at the table, but we are active participants in the process,” he said.

Village staff has also developed a Rickenbacker Causeway concept plan, he added, so that the Village and the County can move forward on improvements to that span.

But Rasco returned to the resiliency and adaptation plan, which now has a new price tag of $248 million for replacing the stormwater system. 

With a critical vote upcoming at Tuesday’s Council meeting, Rasco has previously said he wants shovels in the ground. The timeline now is to have the design for the K-8 neighborhood part of the stormwater project complete by the end of the year, he said Wednesday. 

“Key Biscayne remains the greatest place to call home,” he said. “But we should not be OK with the status quo. Our residents expect more. “

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JOHN PACENTI is a correspondent of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

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JOHN PACENTI is a correspondent of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.