I Ask Questions

question-mark-358143__340I watched part of the County’s last budget meeting and I started to get concerned.  It looks like the BOCC (Board of County Commissioners) is attempting to abandon the wastewater funding issue.  Unfortunately, this would do a huge disservice to the citizens of the Keys – particularly those in Key Largo, Islamorada and Cudjoe Regional.

I understand the BOCC’s hesitation in pursuing state money for wastewater.  They have failed to put together an overall project that shows well.  The Cudjoe project is a mess.  Their treatment of Key Largo is unconscionable.  Unfortunately, this lack of leadership casts a shadow over the accomplishments of the other entities in the Keys who have been responsible and fair.

Even with Cudjoe Regional, the Keys wastewater projects are as worthwhile and necessary as any other wastewater project in Florida.  More so in some ways.  These are state-mandated projects, after all.  It seems the BOCC is now going to request money for land acquisition, affordable housing, canal projects, etc.  Frankly, I don’t think they’ll get much traction until the wastewater situation is sorted out to some extent.  Hopefully, they will see the wisdom in capping spending on the Cudjoe project and taking responsibility for the Key Largo funding situation rather than placing the onus entirely on the state.

So I went ahead and sent some questions to the commissioners.  I told them that I would like a response and that I intend to publish that response on my blog.  We’ll see what happens.  Anyhow, here is the text of my email:

Dear Commissioner;

As we know the state has declined to provide wastewater funding to the Keys this year.  In fact, very little funding was provided to the Keys at all on any issue.  This should come as no surprise to anyone.  In expending funds, the state rightly expects those funds to be used responsibly and in a way that produces political capital for them.  Unfortunately, the Cudjoe Regional project is now $43 million over the bid price, and it is the subject of several lawsuits by citizens in the area.  Those lawsuits actually target state agencies as well – the exact opposite of political capital.  This is incredibly embarrassing and damaging for all the entities of the Keys. 

The county has also failed to provide equitable funding from the infrastructure sales tax to its taxpayers in Key Largo resulting in a $26 million over-contribution from those citizens.  Although the county has been well aware of the situation for years it has refused to address it.  Now the burden is on the state to repair this county-created imbalance through the swap agreement.  The County Administrator’s response to not receiving state funding was reported in the press as follows:

The loss of funding could have serious ramifications for the Key Largo Wastewater District, which is line to receive $17 million in sewer funding this year to pay down debt.  The county was looking at a money swap with the Key Largo district, because Gov. Rick Scott said he will not allocate money to pay down debts, only for new projects.

The county commission had agreed to take the state money for the Cudjoe Regional and other new projects and then give Key Largo county infrastructure sales tax money in exchange. But with no state funding coming this year, the county will have to reconsider the funding agreement, Gastesi said.

“The timing is going to be tight,” Gastesi said.

This comment not only implies that the county is looking for a way to avoid honoring its current obligation under the agreement, but it also suggests that the County’s top executive lacks a basic understanding of the Mayfield Grant.  At $100 million, this is the largest pot of state or federal money available to the Keys.  And yet, he is making statements that are demonstrably false and potentially undermine the unity that is demanded of the Keys in the pursuit of state and federal funding.  The $17 million was approved the prior year and according to Rep. Raschein’s office it will be available this fall.

So here are my questions and I would appreciate a timely answer:

  1. If the state fails to come through with additional sewer money, how does the county plan to repair the enormous wastewater funding imbalance it has imposed on its taxpayers in Key Largo?
  2. How does the county plan to prevent such a huge imbalance from re-occurring in the future on other issues?
  3. What does the county plan to do to repair the damage the Cudjoe Regional project has done to the Keys’ image as whole?  My last trip to Tallahassee was in September and all I heard about was Dump the Pumps.  The KLWTD completed its project on time and under budget.  It was extremely frustrating that our project was being conflated with the Cudjoe Regional project.  It was also a reminder that the Keys are viewed as one entity by the state.
  4. Does it concern you that the County Administrator was mistaken on such an important and sensitive issue as state wastewater funding?  If not, why not?

Please be aware that I plan to publish your unedited response on my blog so that it is available to the public.  Thank you in advance.

Sincerely,

Margaret Blank

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