The swap agreement has the potential to correct the negligently unfair wastewater funding disparity imposed on Key Largo taxpayer by the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). It also has the potential to go very wrong and leave Key Largo taxpayers stuck.
In the past few years, the District has spent about $6 million on construction projects. Of that, approximately $4 million could have been funded by the $17 million from the state. (That would include almost $3 million for the aerobic digester project and nearly $1 million for the purchase and renovation of the administration building.)
Instead, those projects have been financed primarily by the District’s own resources. The District has only received $1 million from Monroe County so far as a result of the swap agreement. As of now, District ratepayers are down $3 million, and Monroe County owes them $16 million on the agreement alone. It’ll take another $9 million to correct the $26 million worth of financial damage caused by the funding disparity so far.
This is merely a snap shot taken at this point in time. In the end, it is possible that District ratepayers could finally see some financial relief. But is this something they can count on? Will it come soon enough to do any good? Will it be enough to do any good? I’m concerned for several reasons.
- I’m not sure how committed the District board really is to funding equity and financial relief. With the exception of Robby Majeska, they simply don’t talk about it. In this case, no news is not good news. Does the board intend to allow this to slide down the memory hole? If so, why? Their ratepayers need and deserve financial relief. It’s the board’s job to bring it home.
- There is a clause in the agreement that limits funding equity to the amount of money provided by the state for sewer projects. The District board was told that the county insisted that this clause be included. It was described as a “deal breaker”. Majeska followed up on it at a BOCC meeting and was told that the county never said any such thing. Conflicting stories. Is somebody lying? If so, why?**
- I’m convinced that the county would renege on the agreement if they could. The iPhone Bandit made comments that suggest he mistakenly thought that Key Largo’s $17 million was included in Mayfield Year 3 rather than in the already approved Mayfield Year 2. Under that erroneous assumption, the county would owe the District nothing if Mayfield Year 3 was somehow killed, which it was.
- One District board member has gone so far as to misrepresent the true benefit of the swap agreement to date. As I mentioned above, the financial impact as of today is actually negative – as in the ratepayers would have been better off without it. The District will have to assertively manage the situation to make sure that the ratepayers ultimately benefit. The statement referenced above seems to indicate that not all District board members are willing or able to do that.
**A very important distinction needs to be made here. The Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District agreed to the limitation on funding equity. Key Largo voters and taxpayers most certainly did not. In fact, it was an eagle-eyed Key Largo citizen who noticed the clause and questioned the implications of it. This person may not realize it, but he/she inspired me to blog.
The only thing stopping Key Largo citizens from walking up and demanding funding equity – AND GETTING IT – is that they are currently represented on the BOCC by a useless lump of pudding. The BOCC has claimed that it did not want and did not ask for the limitation clause to be included. That being the case, it could simply be removed. But it will take more than a useless (and occasionally dishonest) lump of pudding to get that accomplished. It’s going to take a real-live, walking, talking elected representative who will place the item on the agenda, initiate a discussion, and make a motion to get it approved.
Of course, the District board will have to go along with amending the agreement to remove the clause. It’s unclear where many of them stand at this point. Asdourian, Higgins and Tobin have been silent on the issue. Gibbs has attempted to distort the facts. (The voters need to be very aware of that. Mr. Gibbs is up for re-election this November.)
Majeska is the only one who has directly addressed the issue in a constructive way, but his time on the District board is up in November. If he beats Murphy in the Republican primary this August and is ultimately elected to the BOCC, it will be a major boost not only for Key Largo but for any citizen in the Keys who is frustrated over the state of the wastewater projects and alarmed by runaway spending on capital projects in general.