Let’s start with a few facts.
- The wastewater projects are, by far, the largest infrastructure project the Keys has going – $800 million.
- The wastewater projects in the unincorporated area will cost around $500 million.
- The two main wastewater utilities in the unincorporated area are the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) and the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District (District). The FKAA serves about 14,000 EDU’s in the Lower and Middle Keys. The District serves about 14,000 EDU’s in the Key Largo area (Upper Keys).
- Monroe County will supply an estimated $124 million to the FKAA for sewer projects from the infrastructure sales tax.
- The county has supplied $23 million to the District for sewer projects from the infrastructure sales tax.
- As a result of that huge $100 million difference, Key Largo taxpayers contribute $26 million more to their sewer projects.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this extreme imbalance would create a drag on Key Largo’s economy. I’ve already talked about the 4-penny tax and the slow recovery of the business community. Key Largo also has a lower median household income than many of the heavily subsidized areas on the Lower Keys. Unlike the citizens in the other unincorporated areas, Key Largo citizens also pay for their projects out of rates. It makes sense that the excessive contribution forced upon them by the BOCC would leave a mark.
The data suggests that employment is another area where Key Largo is struggling to keep up. My data came from two sources:
- The Census Bureau’s American Fact Finder tool. I looked at “Employment Status” by county and place. Most of that data is derived from the American Community Survey, which gathers data from about 3.5 million households per year.
- The Census Bureaus’s Business Patterns Survey, which gathers data from the Business Register about commercial entities throughout the country. I looked at the number of employees by zip code.
As the saying goes, “truth converges, bullshit diverges”. None of the data by itself will give us a clear picture of what’s really going on. But when all these facts come together, it’s hard to deny that Key Largo’s economy is not as healthy as other areas of the Keys.
Key Largo has suffered the same setbacks as everyone else in the Keys: the recession, the Deep Water Horizon oil spill, the housing bubble. The main difference is the higher cost of the sewer project imposed on citizens in that area because of the county’s unfair funding policies.
American Fact Finder
The data in the table below came from the American Fact Finder. The growth of the number of people unemployed is highest in the Key Largo/Tavernier area. At 145%, it is substantially higher than the county average of 119%. As shown in an earlier post, Key Largo has seen slower business growth. It makes sense that if business growth lags behind, so will job growth.
Business Patterns Survey
Using business pattern survey data from the Census Bureau, I put together a table showing employment trends in the Keys by zip code. I used 2004 as a base line because that’s right before the housing bubble and right at the beginning of the sewer projects.
As you can see, the Key Largo area is lagging behind on this measure as well. County-wide the number of employees is still down 9.3% from 2004. Key West is down only 2.8%. The unincorporated Lower Keys are down by 10.1%. The Key Largo area is down by 12.2%.
As mentioned earlier, American Fact Finder data can be found by “county” and “place”. Below are maps of the “places”.
The Business Patterns Survey data can be found by zip code. Zip code maps are provided below. Note that the Key West zip code (33040) includes Key Haven, Stock Island, and Boca Chica. The Tavernier zip code (33070) includes part of Islamorada and the Key Largo zip code (33037) includes Ocean Reef.
There’s no single smoking gun that’s going to “prove” that Key Largo’s economy has been damaged by the county’s mismanagement and unfair funding policies. But it is documented fact that the Key Largo area has received $100 million less in funding from the county.
While the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District endeavored to “work smart” by containing costs and finding alternative funding sources, a $100 million funding difference is a huge hurdle to overcome. Indeed Key Largo taxpayers contribute $26 million more than taxpayers in the other unincorporated areas.
It is also documented fact that Key Largo has a lower median household income than many of the areas that were so generously subsidized by the infrastructure sales tax.
Taken together these facts support the idea that the Key Largo area has suffered economically. Available data corroborates this common sense conclusion.
That brings me to the all important question: Why? Why would the BOCC pursue such unfair and counter-productive policies? Why have they fought so hard to divert needed funding away from Key Largo? How can this possibly benefit the taxpayers? And if the taxpayers don’t benefit, who does?