The county’s own records show that they have distributed $100 million less to the Key Largo sewer project than to the sewer projects in the other unincorporated areas. The Key Largo project is about the same size as the other projects combined. It’s clear that Key Largo citizens pay higher assessments. A single EDU (equivalent to a single family home) will pay $4,500 in Cudjoe Regional. In Key Largo it can be as high as $9,000 per EDU. Key Largo citizens will also pay for their project out of rates. Taxpayers in the other unincorporated areas will not.
Despite all this, the county has claimed the Key Largo project is “overfunded”. The term has been used by the County Administrator and repeated by the press. But nobody knows what it means. It’s undefined. When I asked, the county provided a spreadsheet. This spreadsheet is actually included as Appendix 2 of the Wastewater Funding Analysis. The analysis details the many problems with the spreadsheet, but I would like to present it in a way that is more accessible. I have a feeling we’ll be hearing the “overfunded” word again in the future. Might as well put a stake through its heart now so I don’t have to do it later.
Here’s a run-down of the various problems with the county’s spreadsheet:
Key Largo IS an unincorporated area.
The county included the Key Largo project and Ocean Reef with the incorporated areas. They are both unincorporated areas. For the purposes of collecting tax money, both areas are treated exactly the same as any other unincorporated area. Unlike a municipality, they do not have direct access to the infrastructure sales tax.
The county attempts to create artificial differences in order to justify their grossly unfair funding practices. Don’t let them fool you. Key Largo citizens pay the same taxes as any other citizen in the unincorporated area, and is a major contributor to both the sales tax and property taxes. The difference is in how the BOCC distributes that tax money.
A faulty premise.
The column to the right forms the basis of the county’s statement that the Key Largo project is “over-funded” by $9.3 million. The county finagled the project cost and the state funding number in order to come up with that number. A project cost of $154.5 million cannot co-exist with the state funding number of $28.1 million. The $28.1 million includes the $17 million approved by the state legislature in 2014. That $17 million cannot be used for anything but “new” projects. The $154.5 million includes only $8.5 million in new projects. The additional $8.5 million is in limbo right now. If (and it’s a big “if”) the county abides by the agreement they made with the District then county money can be used to reduce the local contribution over a period of ten years (or less). The most recent statement from the county indicates that they are already trying to worm out of it.
The $8.5 million mis-statement reduces the imaginary $9.3 million “over-funding” amount to $800,000. However, there are other errors. The most significant being that the amount contributed by the county is shown as $28 million. This is over-stated by about $5 million because it includes costs not included for the other projects in the unincorporated areas.
With these corrections, the Key Largo project goes from being “overfunded” by $9.3 million to being “underfunded” by about $4 million. That $4 million must actually come from the ratepayers. Their contribution is increased by $4 million.
Avoidance of direct comparison.
You’ll notice that the county failed to total the number of EDU’s for the rest of the unincorporated area. That total is 14,117 – very similar to Key Largo’s 14,052. That “oversight” tends to obscure the fact that the Key Largo project constitutes about half the EDU’s in the unincorporated area. They are trying to avoid a straight-up comparison of Key Largo to the other unincorporated areas. The enormous funding disparity and the unfair financial burden it places on Key Largo taxpayers becomes way too obvious if a clear apples-to-apples comparison is made.
What’s most interesting about the spreadsheet is that even with all the errors, it still supports the contention that Key Largo taxpayers are overburdened by the sewer project. I don’t think we can ever expect the county to honestly address this issue without a lot of public pressure. There’s too much at stake. They depend on Key Largo’s money to fund their misadventures elsewhere in the Keys. Key Largo’s quiet acceptance of the status quo is the foundation of the county’s financial plan. If Key Largo citizens start demanding equitable treatment, the whole thing falls apart. Knowing that, they try to mislead by distorting and misrepresenting the facts.
I’ve attached a marked-up version of the county’s spreadsheet below.
I’ve also attached an excerpt from the funding analysis that addresses the county’s nonsense.
The entire analysis can be found here.