Monroe County held a special meeting regarding canal restoration. There’s a story about it on KeysNet.com. As usual, there are huge numbers, little clarity and a forced sense of urgency. The county commissioners had nothing to offer but the usual clueless commentary.
The dust hasn’t even settled on the wastewater projects, and the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) is allowing themselves to be pushed into this canal restoration project. They are determined to drag the taxpayers along with them. The estimated cost of this latest fiasco-in-the-making is somewhere between $200 million and $700 million.
There needs to be a post mortem done on the wastewater projects before embarking on any new spending initiatives of this magnitude. That should start with an independent audit of Big Coppitt and Cudjoe Regional. There also needs to be a review of the county’s extremely unfair and out-of-whack wastewater funding policies, which will cost Key Largo taxpayers $26 million.
- Why didn’t the BOCC ever look into the bidding irregularities on Big Coppitt?
- Why did they not review the design of Cudjoe Regional?
- Why did they accept sole-sourcing of the grinder pumps without objection?
- Why did they allow the cost of Cudjoe Regional to spin so far out of control?
- How do they justify the negligently unfair treatment of Key Largo taxpayers?
Without significant changes on the BOCC, history will repeat itself. It already is. This BOCC is directly responsible for the disastrous state of the wastewater projects. They refuse to hold staff accountable for poor performance. They accept unethical behavior as part of doing business. Even when that unethical behavior negatively impacts the very people who pay their salaries.
“It’s hard for me to deal with this in the abstract,” Commissioner Danny Kolhage said. “We can’t write a check when we don’t know how much it will be for, and we can’t write a check we can’t cover.”
One thing we know about Kolhage: He’s all talk. Of course, he’s saying something that makes sense here, but we know from history he will not follow through. The county will plunge blindly ahead and he’ll wholeheartedly approve every expenditure. Just like Cudjoe Regional.
“We can’t put all of our money into canals,” Commissioner Sylvia Murphy said, citing large costs of stormwater treatment, rebuilding county roads and replacing decaying civic buildings. “Every one of these things is critically important to this county.”
Funny, she didn’t seem too worried about putting $63 million into $25 million worth of capital projects. I guess she figures her own constituents will make up the difference. Just like they did on the wastewater projects.
“We are committed to water quality” Mayor Heather Carruthers said. “That commitment is not going away. But we’ve got to figure out how to pay for it and do it in a way that’s fair.”
I am literally terrified by Carruthers’s concept of “fairness”. In her mind, the enormous $125 wastewater funding disparity against Key Largo is perfectly justified. And the fact that Key Largo taxpayers pay $26 million more for their sewer project as a result troubles her not at all. If asked about it, she’ll simply lie and say that Key Largo has benefited in other ways that justify this huge imbalance. She’ll never produce any evidence of that though. There won’t be any specifics, we’re just supposed to believe what we’re told and go away.
Her Emergency Services Surtax (ESS) proposal is another situation that reveals Carruthers’s true character. She claims that this ESS will “shift” the cost burden of fire and emergency services from locals to tourists. To support this claim, county staff stated that locals pay 100% of property taxes. That is blatantly false and they knew it when they said it. Everyone knows it. So does Carruthers.
Staff also claimed that local families will only contribute $125 per year in additional sales tax. That claim cannot possibly be true based on the county’s own numbers. It is mathematically impossible. The number is actually around $417.
It turns out, to the surprise of absolutely no one, that Carruthers and her campaign donors will actually benefit quite nicely from this tax “shift”. Local renters and low-moderate income homeowners will pay more. (I wonder how this ties in with her “concern” about affordable housing.) The owners of high-value properties (most of whom reside outside the county) will pay much less – in many cases nothing – for fire and emergency services. The situation is summarized here.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the wastewater projects ended up like they did. And it won’t come as any surprise when the canal restoration projects wind up in the same place.