Emergency Services Surtax and Human Services

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Here fishy, fishy.

Comm. Carruthers tried to cloak her self-serving Emergency Services Surtax (ESS) proposal in some appealing promises to get people to bite.  That proposal is supposedly dead for now.  But from Carruthers’s point of view, its too good to stay dead for long.  I have a feeling it will be back.  So let’s take a look at those promises.

One, the ESS was sold as a way to shift the cost burden of emergency services from locals to tourists.  It turns out this is absolutely false.  In reality, the owners of properties with high taxable values will see a huge benefit.  Many of those property owners are based outside of Monroe County.  The vast majority are not locals at all.  Local low-moderate income families would actually contribute more, especially renters.  Locals in Key West and Stock Island would be especially hard hit.

Two, the ESS was sold with the vague promise that the excess funds raised would be used toward human services.  I haven’t spoken about this aspect much, but it’s as ridiculous as the claim that this “tax shift” benefits locals.  And Carruthers knew it when she said it.  She must have known.

Why’s that?  Well, the county spends a lot of resources on lobbying efforts.  A lot.  It’s the iPhone Bandit’s primary focus.  The county spends like mad and then goes begging for bail-outs in Tallahassee.  I’m amazed they haven’t completely worn out their welcome.  Given all the time and effort expended, I find it impossible to believe that Carruthers or any member of the BOCC would be unaware of the various taxes available to local governments.

In fact, there are two taxes already on the books that are specifically meant to help indigent members of local communities.  Presumably, these are the people Carruthers was pretending she wanted to “help” with her ESS proposal.

One, the Indigent Care and Trauma Center Surtax.  Monroe County is eligible to levy this tax at 0.25 percent.  It has the potential to raise $8.5 million to provide trauma care to indigent persons.  Is that a human services need in Monroe County?  I would assume it is as there is a significant homeless population.

This tax would not raise the burden on anyone – not one single local, not one single visitor, not one single property owner.

But there’s a catch.  From the 2015 Local Government Financial Information Handbook:

A county eligible to levy either the 0.5 percent or 0.25 percent surtax cannot levy it along with the Local Government Infrastructure Surtax and Small County Surtax in excess of a combined rate of 1 percent.

Two, the Voter-approved Indigent Care Surtax.  Monroe County could levy a tax up to 0.5%.  This tax is quite a bit more flexible than the Indigent Care and Trauma Center Surtax.

Here again, rate limitations apply.

A county eligible to levy this surtax cannot levy it along with the Local Government Infrastructure Surtax and the Small County Surtax in excess of a combined rate of 1 percent with the following exceptions. If a publicly supported medical school is located within the county or the county has a total population of less than 50,000, the combined rate cannot exceed 1.5 percent.

Both of these taxes would be a true tax shift.  No quotation marks needed.  No tax increase needed.  And it would provide the additional funding for human services that Carruthers claims to be looking for.

So if Carruthers were so interested in supplying additional funding to human services without any additional burden on the taxpayers, why weren’t either of these two taxes considered?  Why come up with this convoluted plan to impose the Emergency Services Surtax?  Why attempt to use a portion of it for human services when that is not an allowed use?  Why pass it off as tax relief for locals when it’s anything but?  It’s all so absurd.

I think we already know the answer to all those questions.  The BOCC would never, ever do anything to impair the flow of cash from the infrastructure sales tax.  The infrastructure sales tax allows tens of millions in taxpayer money to just poof away into the sky.  A $147 million sewer project balloons to $196 million.  A $3 million park improvement escalates to $8 million.  A $15 million court facility almost doubles in price to $28 million.  The infrastructure sales tax has proven far too profitable for those who might wish to benefit from wasteful government spending.

I’m sure because of the chronic mishandling of capital projects, every cent of the infrastructure sales tax is committed for the foreseeable  future.  It’s not just the overspending, but the unconscionable treatment of the county’s own taxpayers in Key Largo.  The county has to come up with another $16 million to honor the swap agreement.  They need to come up with another $9 million to clear the entire $26 million obligation.

The ESS proposal would have provided a windfall for high-value property owners.  That is its most dramatic feature.  And that is what this is really all about.  In this post, I listed the top 20 properties by property value and their estimated savings.  The promised “tax shift” was never meant to benefit locals, and it’s not about providing additional funding for human services either.  But Carruthers certainly wouldn’t come right out and say that, now would she?  Not in an election year.

It’s already been well-established that Carruthers and her campaign donors stand to gain.  Comm. Murphy stands to gain as well, to a much smaller extent.  Besides, it is well-known that Murphy refuses to advocate for her own district even when she would personally benefit from doing so.  An examination of how the three remaining commissioners and their associates might profit would also be very instructive.

I have a feeling the ESS proposal will be back.  Or something similar to it.  Like I said, it’s just too good for certain commissioners and their benefactors.

 

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