Monroe County – Allergic to Math

mathUpdate:  Received this follow-up from Comm. Neugent about improved collections for emergency service.  I think this is great.  I support anything the county can do to improve things financially.  I’ll present everything I get in the interest of providing a clear, complete and accurate picture.  That said, there is nothing to show that this proposed Emergency Services Surtax (ESS) is in any way fair to those areas that spend more frugally (often out of economic necessity) on fire and emergency service.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Allergic to math.  Allergic to facts.  Allergic to common sense.  Allergic to decency.  Allergic to basic fairness.  That’s Monroe County government.

So my questions about the Emergency Services Surtax (ESS) set off a whole communication stream with representatives of Monroe County.  It’s hard to describe my feelings about all this.  I came away feeling like I put my brain in a blender for nothing.  There’s so much wrong.  Think fractal wrongness – where one starts with a false premise and reasons from there.  Every wrong assumption builds upon the previous set of wrong assumptions until you’ve got a real mess on your hands.  That’s what we’re dealing with here.  It’s scary.

The wrongness occurs on various levels.  Factually wrong.  Morally wrong.  Ethically wrong.  Mathematically wrong.  And all of it is asserted with great certainty and authority.  It’s really quite something.  It’s no wonder the county can’t keep their capital projects on track.  Capital projects are definitely a “reality-driven” area.  If you’re screwing up it’s going to show in the finished product.  (Hello, Cudjoe Regional.)

I already discussed my correspondence with staff here.  Here is a direct link to the email chain.  They didn’t send everything I asked for, but they did send a couple of things.

  • Here is a link to a portion of a report discussing the sales tax and how much tourists contribute to it.  The excerpt provided supports the notion of a 60% contribution from tourists, but I was only sent three pages of the report with a few items highlighted.  Hmmm.  Fortunately, the whole (presumably unadulterated) report is available here.  I’ll read through it at my leisure.
  • Staff also sent this disembodied PowerPoint slide to support their claim that Keys households will only contribute another $125 to the new sales tax.  It’s basically a tabular version of that IRS calculator I mentioned earlier.  I’m certainly not going to argue with the IRS, but I will point something out once again.  The IRS calculator is used to determine the amount of sales tax you may deduct for the purposes of preparing your federal income tax return.  It stands to reason that the IRS might want to minimize that number.  As I’ve said before, $125 does not work mathematically using the county’s own claims.  Nor is it corroborated by other information sources.  The true additional contribution appears to be in the $400-$500 range.

While county staff did ultimately respond to a portion of my request, I still do not have all the information I asked for.  There’s no information on the insurance discount.  And there’s no explanation of why they assume locals pay 100% of the property taxes.  What is the rational basis for that?  Is this a reasonable assumption?  The answers are “hell no” and “of course not”.  But still, I would love to see how county staff contorts themselves to come up with an explanation.

I also got into a back-and-forth with commissioner George Neugent.  As you may recall, I consider Neugent the least bad of all county commissioners.  He waved the caution flag on Cudjoe Regional spending, which is located within his own district, while Kolhage and Carruthers lead the charge to impose upon county-wide taxpayers.  Murphy lies to sell out her own constituents.  Rice lays low and makes sure his own butt is covered.  All this is to say that none of them are really any good.

It’s probably a little unfair to expect anyone to perform well in the dysfunctional environment that is Monroe County government.  But the commissioners have more ability than anyone to shape that environment, and this truth-averse form is what they’ve chosen.  The BOCC is solely responsible for hiring and supervising the chief executive.  They’ve chosen the iPhone Bandit.  The iPhone Bandit sets the tone and the standard of conduct.  The rest of staff falls in line or finds a new job.  While I do get extremely frustrated with the often inadequate and dishonest responses from county staff, I understand the pressures they are facing.  I really do.  But I’ll never stop insisting on accurate, truthful information.  Consider that a tough-love valentine from the Real Poop.

The BOCC doesn’t want honest analysis.  They want spin.  Their standards are so low, they don’t even care if it’s plausible spin.  It just has to be enough to knock people off balance.  Their decision to hire, retain and reward the iPhone Bandit tells you exactly what their priorities are.

That said here are some links (link, link, and link) to my conversation with Neugent.  Please forgive any repetitive overlap.  There are a few points I want to extract.

  • The idea that the wastewater funding disparity is subject to interpretation or debate is absurd.  Once again, it is straight-forward math.  Not the county’s favorite.  Project cost – federal funding – state funding – county funding – other outside sources  = local contribution.  In plain English, whatever the feds/state/county/other don’t cover, the locals have to pay.  Divide that by the number of EDU’s and you get the per EDU contribution.  Simple.  Here’s an explanation in living color.  Here’s another.
  • The idea that since Key Largo did not incorporate 15 years ago has been thrown in my face constantly since I started the battle for funding equity.  In hindsight, the failure to incorporate would appear to be a huge mistake.  But the voters couldn’t possibly have known then where all this was going to lead.  The BOCC tends to take the failure to incorporate as permission to treat Key Largo like dirt.  Key Largo isn’t as engaged in county politics as other areas.  With a few exceptions, they just sort of meekly accept their lot in life.  At the end of the day, only Key Largo can help Key Largo.  I’ll put the information out there for as long as I can, but that’s all I can do.  What people choose to do with that information is up to them.
  • The downplaying of the Cudjoe Regional disaster.  The Cudjoe Regional project is $49 million over budget.  That’s not because it’s a “rural area”.  It was the same “rural area” when the sewer project cost $147 million.  Think about how much $49 million means to the Florida Keys.  It would almost buy Peary Court.  It would pave every road in the unincorporated area almost twice.  It is almost double the amount over-contributed by Key Largo citizens for their sewer project due to the funding disparity.  At some point, the BOCC has to put ego aside and face reality for the sake of the taxpayers.  Quite frankly, this BOCC is never going to do that.  This upcoming election is a big opportunity for change.  I just hope the voters are able to take advantage of it.
  • The name-calling.  In this particular conversation, I was characterized as “acrimonious” and “bombastic”.  I’ve also been called “undiplomatic”, “caustic” and “abrasive” among a great many other things.  There was not one serious attempt to address my factual arguments.  This is classic Monroe County.  If you challenge anything said by staff, one of the commissioners or the iPhone Bandit will ride to the rescue, and it is very likely you’ll be called some form of “not nice”.  Then you’ll be told it’s all open to interpretation.  The way the county sees it, 2+2=5.  And they will insist that their “interpretation” is just as valid as that of the “acrimonious” people who maintain that 2+2=4.  This sort of thing has become background noise to me.  I point it out because I think this is often enough to deter a lot of people.  Unfortunately.  Remember, it’s just a tactic to make you go away.  Don’t go away.  Hang on like a barnacle – a “bombastic” barnacle with a calculator.
  • Neugent’s veiled threat to “take his vote elsewhere”.  Key Largo lacks representation on the BOCC.  The current District 5 commissioner is uninformed, incurious, and completely disengaged.  She simply doesn’t care.  To compensate, Key Largo-ans often take their issues to Neugent who is at least willing to listen, and maybe occasionally raise the issue.  He certainly deserves some credit for that.  But this is a two-way street.  Neugent lost his own district in the 2014 primary.  He won the election with lots of help from Districts 4 and 5.  So perhaps he should worry about Key Largo taking its votes elsewhere, too.  If Cudjoe Regional continues to have problems he might never get out of the doghouse with District 2.

So there you have it.  That was my weekend.  There’s lots to unpack before continuing on with the Emergency Services Surtax (ESS) thing.  The county certainly doesn’t make it easy.

 

 

 

 

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