From Keysnews.com – Commission approves fund swap

crossed-fingers-363478__340There’s another article about the fund swap agreement between the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District and Monroe County on keysnews.com, Commission approves fund swap.  If I wrote the headline I would add “with lots of spin”.

As always there’s plenty of debunking to do.  Here’s the first bit that needs to be addressed.

The sewer district has long claimed that Key Largo has been shortchanged by the county when it comes to the distribution of the one-cent infrastructure sales tax monies. The county, though, has said the district is overfunded on its sewer projects.

I know that the county has said Key Largo’s project is “overfunded” – whatever that means.  They’ve provided documentation to support this assertion but it was riddled with errors.  The District’s claim, however, is very well documented using information provided by the county as support.  I’m told that the Wastewater Funding Analysis was provided to the BOCC shortly after it was prepared and that there has been no response.  The media likes to present this as a difference of opinion between the District and the county.  The truth is that the disparity is a matter of documented fact.  The county has failed to challenge those facts in a logical and coherent manner.

From a common sense perspective, according to the county’s own numbers, the Key Largo wastewater project has received  $100 million less from the county than have the projects in the other unincorporated areas.  The Key Largo project serves about the same number of households as the other projects combined and cost substantially less.  Key Largo customers pay higher assessments – an average of around $5,200 as compared to $4,300.  The Key Largo project is also being paid for partially out of rates.  This is not so for the other projects.  Doesn’t it make sense that the customers who received $100 million less would have to contribute more out of their own pockets?  In this case, $26 million more.

The article also took wastewater Comm. Robby Majeska’s comment completely out of context.

“I haven’t seen one dollar come from infrastructure sales tax to help the residents of Key Largo,” Majeska said.

Commissioner Heather Carruthers pointed out that sales tax monies are currently being funneled into both the upgrade of Key Largo’s Rowell’s Marina as well as the construction of the bayside bike path in the works along U.S. 1.

I’ve already written extensively about the truth of the infrastructure sales tax here, here and here.  When the infrastructure sales tax was on the ballot for renewal in 2012, the county made all sorts of promises.  They needed it to pass and wanted to make sure that it would pass.  One of those promises was to use some of the sales tax money to address the wastewater funding disparity suffered by Key Largo taxpayers.  Several of the wastewater commissioners and I traveled to Key West with proposed verbiage to include in the ballot language to make sure that this could happen.  The BOCC approved the resolution.  This is what Mr. Majeska’s comment was about.  Viewing the recording of Mr. Majeska’s comments makes that very clear.  It is also clear that his remarks were intended to address the wastewater situation only.  He prefaced the comment above with a discussion about the ordinance from 2012.

According to the newspaper article, Comm. Kolhage responded as follows:

Mayor Danny Kolhage added the agreement could not take place without the county redirecting sales tax monies to the district.

“That’s what we are doing,” Kolhage said. “And that’s why that language is in there. Don’t mischaracterize this agreement [Majeska].”

The county is simply swapping out county money for state money, and receiving interest-free financing from Key Largo taxpayers to boot.  It’s a sweet deal for them and it’s risk-free.  It’s the District that is assuming all the risk.  The District is giving up state money available in the present in exchange for interest-free payments from the county over time.  At present, the District has not received enough state money to repair the funding disparity caused by the county.  If the state fails to come through, will the county use sales tax money to repair the disparity?  The actions taken and the promises made in 2012 indicate that they would.  However, with their track record this is not something that can simply be taken for granted.

This agreement does not require the county to give sales tax money to Key Largo.  It’s an exchange.  It was the county that created the funding disparity in the first place.  We are all very fortunate that there is state money to fix it.  Wastewater Comm. Majeska is not mis-characterizing the agreement all.  He is making the point that the county is not coming up with the money out of its own pockets.  It is being offset by state money that the county will receive in advance of their payments to the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District.  At this point there is not enough state money to repair the disparity.  The BOCC was well aware of the point Mr. Majeska was making.  They were trying to bury it.

As always, I’ve provided links to my source information.  See below.

Minutes from BOCC meeting held on August 15, 2012.  The BOCC approved language proposed by the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District to allow for sales tax money toward paying down debt on that project.  See Item O2.

Here is the agenda documentation for the above-mentioned item.

This is a link to the recording of the discussion that took place at the BOCC meeting held on July 18, 20112.

And here is a link to the discussion at the May 20th BOCC meeting.

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