It was the worst news. The story on the front page of our island newspaper reported that our community was No. 1 on a list of the top 10 richest towns in Florida.
Bad, you say? How can that be bad news? Try living in a community where everyone – including your county government — thinks you have all the money in the world. Imagine the expectations.
The website that gave us this suspect distinction said “this idyllic town has all the charms of Old Florida – a thriving fishing industry, mom-and-pop eateries, and, of course, beaches built for casual strolling. However, it has some seriously luxurious mansions and impressively large estates.”
It also rightly pointed out that some of these mansions sit empty most of the year, with the ultra-wealthy visiting only when the weather gets bad up north or the Tarpon are running during fishing season.
There are some well-heeled folks who spend four or five months here. Every community has those. Then there are the rest of us who have worked hard all our lives and are happy to have a little piece of paradise.
Living on an island – where everyone thinks money grows on palm trees – isn’t easy.
Try eating out. Every year the few restaurants we have on the island print new menus. It’s the same old food but with higher prices. A friend complained the other day that the Ahi Tuna appetizer she once enjoyed for $15.95 is now $25. Same tuna. Bigger bill.
The owners of a new eatery on the island reportedly charge twice as much for the same dish as they do at another restaurant they own in Florida. The food is delicious, but the prices. Ouch!
Even the carryout dinners from the local grocery store average $14, with prime rib going for $23.
Restaurants and other businesses can get away with charging bigger prices because we are a captive population. But they also need to make more because of the seasonal nature of their business and the rent they pay. They also suffer as a result of the “richest” syndrome.
A popular florist was forced to leave the island a couple of years ago because her annual bill for a tiny space exceeded $40,000. Try selling enough flowers in six months to cover that rent.
Home prices and construction costs go up every year. A friend of mine bought a house that would have cost $80,000 off island five years ago. Now it’s valued at three times what she paid for it. But if she sells it to capture her profit, she says she will have to move off island. All “bargains” are gone – swept away by booming real estate prices. She calls it the blessing and the curse of living here.
The biggest drawback is a county government that believes the press releases and, thus, delights in increasing property taxes to exorbitant levels each year. When we sold a house in the village and moved north to the “suburbs,” our property tax went up $8,000 for a lesser property. We are still trying to figure out that one.
“Rich people’s problems,” an old friend said to me when I complained about island prices and outrageous property taxes.
He was wrong. It’s problems caused by rich people – and the expectations that go along with living in the “richest town in Florida.” I think we’d all be happy for someone else to have that dubious honor.