At this point in the discussion, it would probably be a good idea to revisit the map of emergency services providers. It helps to keep track of what is going on where. Monroe County serves the unincorporated Lower and Middle Keys. They also serve the unincorporated portion of Tavernier and the tiny city of Layton. Key Largo is served by a special district, and Ocean Reef has its own volunteer fire department. The larger municipalities, Key West, Marathon and Islamorada have their own fire departments. Key Colony Beach is served by Marathon.
At present each area pays for its own fire service out of ad valorem taxes. Comm. Carruthers has proposed that fire service be paid for with another sales tax instead. She’s made some dodgy claims to support her proposal.
Another important graphic is that table from county staff’s “white paper”. Here it is.
- County Comm. Heather Carruthers has proposed an Emergency Services Surtax (ESS). She and county staff say that this new tax will shift more of the cost of fire and emergency service from locals to tourists.
- The county claims that tourists pay 0% of property taxes and locals pay 100%. That, of course, is false. There are thousands of properties in the Keys that derive at least part of their income from tourists. I estimate that locals pay about 47% of property taxes.
- They claim that locals will only pay an additional $125 per year in sales tax. This is not supported by the math using the county’s own numbers. The math, and corroborating information, support a number around $417.
Basically, there’s lots of lying going on. Well lying or incompetence. Maybe both.
I went into this thing thinking – oh here we go again. The county is trying to shift tax money from Key Largo to the Lower Keys just like they did on the wastewater projects. But the numbers actually demonstrate something unexpected. While there is certainly a geographic element, it seems to be more about shifting the tax burden from out-of-county property owners to locals, especially renters.
Just looking at the average taxable value of homesteaded properties in Monroe County’s service area, it looks like those local homeowners will come out ahead. They’ll save between $99 and $137 per year. But again when we rank the properties from highest taxable value to lowest, two things become very clear.
- Most homesteaded properties fall into the category with the lowest taxable value – over half.
- Those homeowners actually wind up paying more under Carruthers’s scheme – once again.
“Save Our Homes” protections and the Homestead exemption keep property taxes down for locals who own their homes. It seems that Carruthers would like to bypass those protections in order to give out-of-county property owners a free ride when it comes to fire service.
I’m an out-of-county property owner. I guess I should thank Carruthers for this? But honestly, I’d rather see my friends in the Keys keep their hard-earned tax money and spend it on their own families.
The majority of local homeowners in unincorporated Tavernier and the unincorporated Lower and Middle Keys will save $270 on property taxes, but will pay an additional $417 in sales tax. Their overall contribution will increase by $147. Renters, of course, will contribute the whole $417 in sales tax.
I was pretty surprised by this, to be honest. I fully expected to see areas served by Monroe County make out like bandits. I’m so used to thinking in terms of geography, but like I said above its really not about that at all. It’s about pushing more of the burden onto low-to-moderate income locals. That sure looks like how it would work in practice anyway.