The $26 million hole that Key Largo taxpayers find themselves in isn’t something that just happened by accident – like a car wreck or a hurricane. The Board of County Commissioners has known about this for years. They had the authority to prevent it and they had the authority to fix it at any point in the process. They simply chose not to. It’s important for Key Largo taxpayers to understand that they will never receive fair treatment in wastewater funding or anything else until they demand it. The folks in the Lower Keys have been treated very, very well financially because they insist on it. (The non-financial aspect of things is another matter.)
If Key Largo taxpayers are going to successfully advocate for themselves, it will be helpful to know some of the county’s standard derailing tactics. Here are just a few I’ve encountered over the years.
The Key Largo area is served by an independent special district. Therefore, folks in that area are not entitled to the same level of funding as folks in the other unincorporated areas.
First, Key Largo citizens pay the same taxes as any other taxpayer in the unincorporated area. The county gladly accepts all the property taxes and all the infrastructure sales tax and all the other taxes collected in Key Largo. They then distribute that tax money however and wherever they please. So for the purposes of collecting tax money, Key Largo is most definitely treated just like any other unincorporated area. Not so for the spending of tax money. Second, and most ironic, the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) is providing sewer service in the other unincorporated areas. And the FKAA also happens to be an independent special district. Enough said, right? The “special district” counter-argument goes down in flames.
Monroe County had no role in setting the District’s assessments or rates.
True but irrelevant. If the county had seen fit to provide equitable funding to all its taxpayers, the District would have had the financial resources to lower assessments and rates. Seems pretty obvious to me.
The wastewater funding disparity is very well documented. It’s impossible to dispute on a factual basis. So the county will often turn to what I would call “tone arguments”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told to “stop whining” or have been called “rude” after presenting a fact-based argument. It just comes with the territory. You have to keep bringing it back around to the facts.
Overall shocking mindset and mentality.
This was one of the most daunting aspects of the whole situation for me. I really had a hard time believing that the county would allow an inequity of this magnitude to happen in the first place. And then when informed, they essentially refused to fix it – for years. If not for state money, the county would be content to do nothing. I was absolutely blown away by this. That’s the reason this situation is so well-documented. Once I saw it for myself, and presented the facts to others, they had the same mental hurdle to overcome. Unfortunately, this is all too real.
A while back, there was a story in the Free Press about the wastewater funding discrepancy with lots of quotes from the county that clearly demonstrated their determination to distort the issue. They threw a whole lot of red herrings out there, which were meant to confuse rather than clarify the issue.
I wrote a letter responding to the county’s statements. Links to both items are provided below for your reading enjoyment. They give some insight into the county’s mentality, which I think is pretty valuable for those taxpayers who demand fair treatment.