Update: In this post, I blamed county commissioner Heather Carruthers for the Emergency Services Surtax because it was her proposal. However, it’s important to know that the “white paper” was actually written by Kevin Madok. Madok is now running for Clerk of Court, a position that requires truthfulness and integrity.
I’ve been talking about the various distortions found in Monroe County’s “white paper” analyzing Comm. Carruthers’s proposed Emergency Services Surtax (ESS). This new sales tax is being sold as a “tax shift” that will benefit locals. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case at all. Quite the opposite, as noted here and here. Much of the logic used by the county to support this new tax fails to stand up to scrutiny.
Monroe County and I used different methods to determine the property tax reduction for the various communities in the Keys. Our numbers for Key Largo and the rest of unincorporated Monroe County were pretty close to begin with. Here’s a run down of the others that I’ve been able to reconcile so far.
- Key West – I inadvertently excluded ambulance service from my number. Key West brought ambulance service in-house last year and separates it from fire service in their financial documents. When I correct for that, my number for Key West is very close to the county’s.
- Marathon & Key Colony Beach – Marathon provides fire service to the City of Key Colony Beach at a cost of $550,000 according to the county’s “white paper”. The county included the combined cost of serving both Marathon and Key Colony Beach to determine the tax benefit to Marathon. They also used KCB’s payment to Marathon to determine the benefit to KCB. Doing it that way double counts the cost of service to KCB and overstates the benefit of the property tax reduction. I corrected for that here.
There’s also a large difference between my number for Islamorada and the county’s number for Islamorada. I believe that’s because the county only looked at costs for one year, FY 2014. Islamorada made an extraordinarily large fire and rescue capital purchase that year. If you look at Islamorada’s fire and rescue expenditures over a few years, the picture looks quite different.
Not only did the county use the one year with the highest fire and rescue expenditures (FY 2014) to come up with the highest possible percentage, they matched it with the highest millage rate which is from an entirely different year (FY 2016). In other words, they’re cherry picking numbers to come up with the highest possible benefit. Monkey math!
So what might the computation look like if the county made a good faith effort to come up with an accurate number? Rather than 56%, the number is really around 48%. See below.
Using that revised number, the savings for the average homesteaded residence in Islamorada is $45 per year. My number is on the low side, but using that number results in an additional contribution of $13 per year. In short, the benefit to the average local homeowner in Islamorada is borderline.
As we know from looking at Key West and the Marathon area, the average value of a homesteaded property doesn’t tell the whole story. In those communities, homesteaded properties were clustered on the low end as far as taxable value is concerned. That means that many local homeowners aren’t going to benefit as much from this “tax shift” as they may have been led to believe.
It should come as no surprise that Islamorada is no different.
The vast majority of homesteaded properties – over 60% – are clustered in the lower range with an average taxable value of $187,052. Carruthers’s “tax shift” would save them $231 per year on their property taxes, but they would pay an additional $417 per year in sales tax. They’d be looking at a net additional contribution of $186. As always local renters would contribute the full $417. It is unlikely, given the tight housing market in the Keys, that any benefit from a property tax reduction would be passed along to them.
Again, if Carruthers feels that the financial burden on wealthy, out-of-county property owners is unfair then that’s the conversation she needs to have. Her contention that this “tax shift” benefits locals is not holding up under scrutiny. She only damages her own credibility by allowing staff to use dishonest numbers to support it. Monroe County citizens, like citizens everywhere, need public officials who are going to be honest with them.