I started this blog because I love Key Largo. The wastewater funding disparity really opened my eyes to how things work in Monroe County. Generally, Key Largo is under-served across the board – animal shelters, parks and more. The wastewater project just happens to have the highest price tag. The saddest part is that the county has the resources to provide services in a fair and reasonable way. They simply choose not to. They don’t have the financial discipline to keep their spending under control and Key Largo pays the price for that.
Key Largo is a major contributor to both the sales tax and ad valorem taxes. So the county’s under investment in Key Largo potentially has financial consequences for the Keys as a whole. After all, if businesses in Key Largo are over-burdened by the costs of the sewer project, how do they expand and grow? How do they hire more workers? How does this affect the tax base?
I know that Key Largo citizens have a general sense that something is very wrong. But they don’t know the extent. The purpose of this blog is to give them the information they need to advocate for themselves and make informed decisions about the future of their community. I was happy to see that folks in Tavernier are looking into changing over their fire service to the Key Largo Fire and Rescue District. If it all works out they’ll get equivalent fire protection service and a lower tax bill. Good for them. The Key Largo area needs more of that.
I want this blog to fill a gap in the media coverage of these issues. The coverage on the high kill rates at the Upper Keys animal shelter excluded the fact that the Upper Keys shelter receives far less funding than the other two shelters. It’s common sense that would be a possible factor in the higher kill rate. Yet it was never even mentioned. The large funding difference is a relevant and easily verifiable fact. Coverage of the wastewater funding disparity is often reported as a difference of opinion between the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District (District) and Monroe County. There is more to it than a simple difference of opinion. The county’s own Project History document shows an enormous $100 million difference in wastewater funding. Again, this is an easily verifiable fact that supports the District’s position and undermines the county’s. Pulling all this information together and making sense of it is a tough job. It took me a couple of years to fully understand the evolving wastewater situation. I understand that it’s not easy for the press to sort this out. That’s why I think this blog is necessary. I get most of my information from publicly available documents so that readers can access the source material for themselves. It’s the best way to fight through the rhetoric and get to the facts.
So coming up I want to…
- Compare wastewater operating costs and rates throughout the county.
- Look at measures of economic health throughout the county.
- Review income sources besides the infrastructure sales tax and the ad valorem taxes.
- Explore water quality data to see what these expensive sewer systems have accomplished.
There’s a lot more data I want to sift through. But at this point, I know enough to say that Key Largo needs to incorporate. It is the only lasting form of relief available to address the chronic inequity problem. The county’s habits are just too ingrained. Those spending habits have fostered a sturdy sense of entitlement in the Lower Keys. The BOCC tends not to look at the big picture. They consider every request in isolation, and so those who scream the loudest tend to get their way. This creates a self-reinforcing cycle because those who are used to getting their way scream the loudest. This is why the wastewater situation evolved as it did. Rather than taking steps to remedy the inequity, the BOCC only denies the problem and offers weak excuses to justify it after the fact. They follow the path of least resistance. Unincorporated Key Largo is fighting a stiff political headwind. There is little Key Largo can do as an unincorporated area to change this dynamic. Incorporation allows Key Largo to opt out of this circus to the greatest extent possible.
Key Largo has proven itself to be a community that is fiscally responsible – far more so than Monroe County. A quick look at the wastewater projects makes that very apparent, as does a comparison of the cost of fire service. By incorporating, not only will a certain amount of tax money be guaranteed to remain in the community, but citizens will have a greater say in how that money is spent.