Here’s another entry in the “Monkey Math” series. This is where I document Monroe County’s fundamentally dishonest way of covering up its grossly inequitable approach to the wastewater funding issue.
We’ve seen Monroe County drag the federal government into its shameless attempts to divert needed funding away from its own taxpayers. It should come as no surprise that the county has dragged the state into it as well. Here is a report prepared by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP): Keys Wastewater Report_Revised Final Draft_10 10 13.
If you look at Figure 13 on page 22, you’ll notice something very strange.
It appears as though Key Largo taxpayers contribute less to their sewer project than the other unincorporated areas. How can this be true? Key Largo taxpayers pay higher sewer assessments – about $5,200 per EDU on average – compared to $4300 for the other unincorporated areas. Key Largo taxpayers also pay for the capital cost of their project out of rates – $10.5 million. Taxpayers in the other unincorporated areas will pay nothing out rates. According to the latest District analysis, the county has provided over $124 million in sales tax money to the other projects. It has provided about $23 million to Key Largo – over $100 million less. The Key Largo project is about the same size as the other projects combined.
So how is it possible that Key Largo taxpayers would have a lower contribution? The answer is simple. It is not possible. Monroe County supplied the data to the FDEP for this report. The county, in its habitually deceptive way, did not differentiate between funding from county-wide sources and funding from the local service areas. As a result, we have this bizarre paradox where the more county-wide funding a project receives, the higher its local contribution appears to be. Magical monkey math strikes again!
The implication, of course, is that Key Largo doesn’t need funding. Nothing could be further from the truth. The sewer project has had a larger financial impact on Key Largo taxpayers than any other taxpayers in the unincorporated area. In order to correct this county-sponsored misapprehension, I wrote a response to the FDEP’s report: FDEP_Report_KLWTD(2). Table 13-1 contains the corrected local area contributions.
You’ll notice that, at the time this report was written, the contribution from Key Largo taxpayers was estimated to be $97.5 million. The contribution from the taxpayers in the other unincorporated areas was estimated to be $58.5 million. Remember that Key Largo serves about the same number of customers as the other unincorporated areas combined. The 14,000 customers in Key Largo have to come up with $39 million more. The infrastructure sales tax is collected county-wide. Presenting it as a contribution from the local service area is extremely misleading and the county knows this.
Here’s another interesting factoid from Table 13-1. Key Largo taxpayers contribute about the same as Marathon taxpayers on a per EDU basis. It is important to keep in mind that as an incorporated area, Marathon receives a portion of the infrastructure sales tax directly. They do not need to depend on the county. So in Marathon’s case, any sales tax used for the sewer project offsets the amount required from the ratepayers. That means that Marathon ratepayers potentially have a lower contribution on a per EDU basis than Key Largo ratepayers do.
So what is the advantage to remaining unincorporated? There doesn’t appear to be any – certainly not when it comes to the sewer project.
This report is two years old. Why bring it up now? The lobbying effort is getting underway again this year. The county tends to recycle the same old tactics so we might see them pull this silliness out again if they think they can get away with it. I’ve found that they behave much better if they know somebody is watching. They don’t mind doing wrong, but they hate getting caught at it. Sadly, public shaming is the only way I know of to get some semblance of decent behavior out of them.
It also provides additional insight into the county’s deceptive practices. The taxpayers need to know what they’re really dealing with – especially Key Largo taxpayers. The county controls the flow of information. If they are spreading damaging misinformation, it takes a lot of time and effort to get to the truth. Look at this blog – over 80 posts dedicated to deconstructing and debunking! Often, people have to accept what they’re told even when they have serious doubts. I hope that exposing some of the county’s repeatedly used tactics gives citizens a leg up when they’re trying to figure out what’s really going on. As Winston Churchill once said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on”. Maybe we can give the truth a chance to catch up.