After I published my post on Cudjoe Regional and Rowell’s Marina the other day, it occurred to me that none of the citizens in the unincorporated area feel they have been well-served by the county when it comes to the wastewater projects. Key Largo and Cudjoe Regional are the two largest projects in the unincorporated area with a combined EDU count of around 23,000 and combined flows of over four million gallons per day. Together they are about the same size as Key West’s wastewater system.
I’ve provided a side-by-side comparison of the two projects below. The rhetoric has gotten heated and the BOCC’s excuse-making does not help. It’s time to clear the air and have a real discussion.
The table clearly shows that Key Largo is certainly getting the short end of the stick financially in nearly all areas. Taxpayers in Cudjoe Regional will contribute about $4,500 per EDU. Key Largo taxpayers will contribute about $6,200 per EDU for the wastewater project – about $1,700 more. Both areas are unincorporated. Both are served by an independent special district.
Key Largo with its large population and thriving business community contributes substantially more to the tax base than Cudjoe Regional does. According to zip code data obtained from the Florida Department of Revenue (FDOR) Key Largo generates $4.2 million per year in infrastructure sales tax and Cudjoe Regional generates $1.1 million. Key Largo also contributes about $900,000 more to the general fund from ad valorem taxes. The BOCC and the county administrator have often tried to justify the wastewater funding disparity by claiming that Key Largo’s tax contribution doesn’t justify equitable treatment. This is wrong on many levels. Most importantly, for the purposes of this discussion, it is factually wrong.
Spending on other infrastructure projects has also been a favorite excuse for the extreme imbalance in wastewater funding. I’ve already established that this is false. About $4 million more will be spent on parks in Key Largo than in Cudjoe Regional. But Key Largo’s population is larger by 40%. It’s business community generates four times more in sales tax, in large part because of tourist activity. With a larger population and more tourists, it stands to reason that a higher level of spending on parks would be necessary to serve the needs of the community.
The county will spend substantially more on paving in Cudjoe Regional – about $5.8 million more. About one third of the roads in Key Largo were paved as a result of the sewer project. The Cudjoe regional area has more roads than the Key Largo area. According to what I know so far, the spending difference isn’t out of line. But the BOCC has implied, falsely of course, that Key Largo will receive an out-sized benefit from the paving project. Another lie exposed by their own documents.
Cudjoe Regional citizens, in particular, could benefit from a good dose of reality. I understand that they are not happy with the county’s handling of their wastewater project. Neither am I! I understand that they want to throw grenades at the BOCC. So do I! But their neighbors in Key Largo are getting hit with the shrapnel. That needs to stop. It only makes matters worse.