Monkey Island makes a case
Then there are monkeys.
It’s a good government day if county commissioners are debating whether to give money for monkey housing.
That’s where we found ourselves Tuesday as the county commission voted 3-2 to provide $98,000 toward the refurbishment of Monkey Island, which sits on the Homosassa River and is an absolute delight in our community.
It’s a lot of money for monkeys, and the fact that their new house will include air conditioning didn’t sit well with some people who wondered if that’s the best way to spend our tax dollars.
So let’s talk about that.
First off — and this drives me nuts — folks need to know that not every tax dollar received is spent in the exact same way. General property taxes can be used for anything. But specific taxes go for specific purposes.
Gasoline taxes are used for road projects. That’s easy, right? Most people wouldn’t suggest we use gas taxes to expand sewer lines. Two totally different things.
Same for tourist tax dollars. Tourist taxes are on overnight stays, so hardly anyone who lives in Citrus County actually pays this tax. Visitors pay the tax; the money is used for marketing and programs that entice visitors to Citrus County.
We can’t pave roads with that tax, we can’t build a Baker Act campus with that tax and we can’t fix homelessness with that tax. It needs a direct tie to tourism.
The first thing to do, then, is make sure we’re on the same page. The Monkey Island money request is from tourist taxes. That certainly makes sense. There’s no doubt Monkey Island is part of the Old Homosassa fabric that attracts multitudes of tourists.
So it’s not out of the realm of reality to suggest some of those tourist funds help provide a new house and yard for the three spider monkeys that call this patch of rock in the Homosassa River their home.
Plus, c’mon, this is Monkey Island. Monkey Island! Other than swimming with manatees in Three Sisters Springs, is there a more iconic spot in all of coastal Citrus County?
We all brag about Monkey Island. Who has a Monkey Island? We do.
Commissioner Jeff Kinnard put it like this: “Highly likely every commissioner up here has passed by that island and pointed out the monkeys to family or guests. It is a unique thing.”
The Homosassa monkeys, Ebony, Emily and Ralph, are currently residing in Brooksville while their home is remodeled. Commissioner Diana Finegan, who lives in Old Homosassa, said USDA is requiring the A.C.
“Nobody in this room and nobody in Homosassa wanted to air-condition monkeys,” she said.
The nonprofit Historic Monkey Island Inc. formed in 2020 to raise funds to restore the island and care for its monkey residents. It is matching the county’s $98,000 to rehab the island so that the monkeys can come home.
Chairman Ruthie Davis Schlabach and Commissioner Rebecca Bays each voted no, though I can’t really say why. Schlabach said the money would be better used to help restore the river. Bays said the county needs to diversify its tourism marketing.
Both good points but neither is related to Monkey Island. We can support Homosassa River restoration and encourage a diversified tourism market while still providing a home for these monkeys.
I realize that’s a lot of money for Monkey Island. And there’s a reasonable argument that the ones who benefit the most are Matthew and Joseph Lowman of Brooksville (Lowman Law Firm) who deeded the island to the nonprofit but own the adjacent resort Monkey Island is associated with.
Or, we can simply celebrate the fact that Citrus County has a Monkey Island and be happy about it.
Happier than a barrel full of … you get it.
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Mike note: The blog originally said Lowman owns Monkey Island. It does not and the blog is corrected.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.