Emergency Services Surtax – Tavernier

truth-257159__340Tavernier, like Stock Island, is one of those sub-areas that has special issues when it comes to Comm. Heather Carruthers’s Emergency Services Surtax (ESS) proposal.  Local residents in Stock Island will be especially hard hit by the ESS because of its high proportion of renters and comparatively low median household income.

Local residents of unincorporated Tavernier won’t be impacted in the same way.  But Tavernier citizens have a decision to make, and the ESS proposal complicates that decision.  In fact, I suspect this is a major factor in bringing the ESS proposal about.

You see Monroe County currently provides sewer service to unincorporated Tavernier.  Fortunately, the folks in Tavernier have a money-saving alternative.  They are investigating the possibility of switching over to the Key Largo Fire Rescue and EMS District (KL Fire District).  A good county government might facilitate that transition because any attempt to provide more cost-effective service is a benefit to the taxpayers.  Unfortunately, Tavernier doesn’t have a good county government.  They’ve got Monroe County government, who decided to put this ESS proposal forward instead.

So let’s crunch some numbers and see what happens.

The median household income in the Tavernier area is $54,402 – close to the county average of $55,449.  So I’ll assume that a typical household in Tavernier will pay an additional $417 in sales tax if Carruthers’s ESS proposal is implemented.  A typical homesteaded property in Tavernier will save about $243 on property taxes.  That means the imposition of the ESS will cost most local Tavernier homeowners about $174.

Tavernier by Value

By my count, there are 618 homesteaded properties in Tavernier.  Of those 618, only 234 will come out ahead if the ESS is implemented.  Let’s not forget the renters, who will be especially hard hit.  Tavernier has the fourth highest proportion of renters in the Keys at 35%.

There are over three hundred households occupied by renters.  Those households will pay the full $417 in additional sales tax each year if Carruthers has her way.  I believe that this ESS proposal will be back.  This talk of “putting it in the freezer” just means the BOCC won’t discuss it again until the election is safely over.  The ESS is just too good from the BOCC’s point-of-view.  It’s got it all.

  • It’s disguised as a “tax shift” but it really is a tax increase.  The cost of county-wide fire and emergency services is between $26 million and $29 million.  The amount of tax collected from the ESS is estimated to be $34 million.
  • The excess would supposedly go to human services activities, but no specifics have ever been offered.  Exactly which humans will benefit?  It’s just more money for the county to divert and squander.
  • The new tax demands an excessive contribution from low-moderate income locals.  The BOCC loves that.  They structured wastewater funding in the same way.  Then they pretend to be concerned that the workforce can’t afford to live in the Keys.
  • The “tax shift” benefits high value property owners – including BOCC members and their campaign donors.

According to the “white paper”, Monroe County’s fire service millage rate is 2.1403 and the KL Fire District’s is 0.8223.  Tavernier property owners could realize a savings of $132 per $100,000.  Rather than paying an additional $174, the typical local property owner could save almost $150.  That’s a $324 improvement over Carruthers’s proposal.

If Tavernier switched over to the KL Fire District all properties in the area would benefit, regardless of their taxable value.  That should make Tavernier’s decision much easier.  Of course, Tavernier residents have an additional hurdle.  They are “represented” (if you can call it that) on the county commission by Sylvia Murphy.  Comm. Murphy has made a career out of throwing her own constituents under the bus.  But in this case, Murphy’s tendency to pursue her own narrow self-interest might actually work in her constituents’ favor.  Unless there’s some other factor at work…

Murphy lives in Tavernier and owns property there with a combined taxable value of $402,000.  Carruthers’s ESS scheme would save Murphy about $443.  But a change in service provider would save Murphy about $530.  She’s got more to gain from switching over to the KL Fire District.  Here’s the math:

$402,000 * 2.1403/1000 = $860;  $860 – $417 = $443

$402,000 * (2.1403 – 0.8223)/1000 = $530

Food for thought.



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