One of the best things about my resignation as the General Manager of the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District is that I can express myself freely. In my three years of being General Manager, I was often accused of not being “diplomatic” or “nice” in my dealings with Monroe County. Guilty as charged I suppose. Unfortunately, the situation did not call for “diplomacy” or “niceness”. The county has not only refused to address the enormous funding disparity, they’ve repeatedly denied its existence in the face of documented fact. They have also deliberately interfered with the District’s federal funding source in an attempt to divert funding away from Key Largo. The county is desperately in need of cash to fund its irresponsible handling of the Cudjoe Regional project, which is now $43 million over the bid price. This desperation fuels the unprincipled behavior described above.
The state has refused to provide additional funding for Keys wastewater projects this year. I can’t help but think that Monroe County’s reckless behavior is a contributing factor. The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) needs to get their act together and quickly. There are many needs throughout the state – the Everglades, the springs, Indian River Lagoon. All of these projects are as necessary and worthwhile as the Keys project. Every year, the Keys need to prove that they are worthy of state money. The county’s financial missteps make that very difficult, no matter how responsible the other entities have been.
My predecessor, Charles Fishburn, was also accused of being “undiplomatic” with the county. He would often ask rhetorically, “Is there any upper limit on the cost of these projects?” My absolute top estimate – my “nightmare scenario” – for the Cudjoe project was $185 million. The estimated cost to complete that project now stands at $190 million. The answer to Mr. Fishburn’s question seems to be, “No. There is no upper limit.” That is a scary thought. Rest assured, the county cannot pay for its excesses without a continuing excessive contribution from Key Largo. That contribution not only comes in the form of higher assessments and higher rates for the wastewater project, but in a lower level of service across the board. The situation with the Upper Keys animal shelter comes immediately to mind.
After I read the article on KeysNews yesterday, I sent the BOCC the following email.
Diplomatic? No. Necessary? Absolutely. Speaking up may not help at all. But saying nothing guarantees that the county will persist with its irresponsible and damaging spending habits. And they will assume they are justified in doing so because nobody’s complaining. This email, while certainly not “diplomatic” let’s them know that at least one person is not at all happy with what’s going on.
I should clarify that I am sympathetic to the citizens of the Lower Keys. Many of their concerns have merit and have never been properly addressed by the county. However, the county chose to deal with them by simply throwing money at the situation. The county spent boat loads of taxpayer money and, unsurprisingly, the citizens are still not satisfied with the result. At the end of the day, the financial burden of the county’s poor planning and decision-making falls disproportionately on Key Largo taxpayers. That is wrong.
I also sent an email to the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District Board members. They need to be very cautious in their dealings with the county. Comments attributed to the County Administrator in the newspaper article suggest that the county is already trying to worm out of the swap agreement. That certainly didn’t take long! The District needs to be ready to aggressively pursue other avenues.
I also submitted a letter to the editor in response to the article.
We’ll see what, if anything, comes of all this.