Monroe County loves to brag about its financial condition. Certain county commissioners love to claim that financial responsibility is a huge priority for them. Hmmm…
From Danny Kolhage’s candidate page for the 2012 election. He promised to…
Support conservative fiscal policies that will keep the County budget under control.
Heather Carruthers also claims to be watching the pennies. According to her 2012 candidate page, she reduced the size of the county budget.
Carruthers was instrumental in helping reduce the size of the County budget by over $22 million.
On her 2016 candidate page, Sylvia Murphy claims that…
our county’s finances continue to improve.
Neugent is a lot more careful on his 2014 candidate page. He doesn’t say anything that can be proven false. He talks up the positives, but doesn’t touch the negatives. I guess that’s what he needed to do to get re-elected, but is he giving voters the full picture? For instance, it’s true that the county secured $30 million in state money for the Cudjoe Regional project. But you won’t hear about the fact that the project is now $49 million over budget. And you won’t hear that assessments were reduced by $10 million, which increased the burden on county-wide taxpayers.
True to form, David Rice said nothing on his 2014 candidate page. I admire his chameleon-like ability to blend in with the wallpaper, but it doesn’t do much to keep spending under control.
The 2015 State of Monroe County report avoids any discussion of long-term finances. The Strategic Planning section says this.
Successfully implemented next phase of capital project financing. During fiscal year 2015, we issued bonds to refinance the Series 2003 bonds outstanding, providing $25 million for capital projects. We also issued a $16 million line of credit to aid in the efficient funding of the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater Project.
So additional borrowing is treated as a great achievement. Is it?
Here’s the stark reality about Monroe County’s long-term debt. The figures came from the notes to the balance sheets published in the county’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). CAFR’s can be found here.
What does all this mean for the taxpayers? What will the county’s finances look like going forward? How will this impact the future of the Keys community? How will it impact our ability to pay for additional capital projects that are needed? Are county officials willing and able to answer these questions accurately and truthfully?
Key Largo is already feeling the effects of the uncontrolled spending sprees. Monroe County has an obligation to provide equitable funding for all the wastewater projects in the unincorporated area, including Key Largo. But they didn’t live up to that obligation. Is it because they won’t or is it because they can’t? Has the county’s out-of-control spending made it impossible for them to repair the wastewater funding disparity they created without raising assessments on the other unincorporated areas?
Capital projects are completely out of control. The BOCC won’t come out and tell us that. Even now Sylvia Murphy is claiming that county finances continue to improve. Really? Long-term debt has increased by over $200 million since she was first elected in 2006. I would like her to explain why she considers this an improvement?
Danny Kolhage claimed that he would “support conservative fiscal policies that will keep the County budget under control”. Yet long-term debt has increased by over $165 million since he was elected. At least, Sylvia Murphy can say she voted “no” on some of the huge cost escalation on Cudjoe Regional. (Not that she did much else to stop it.) Kolhage cannot. He voted for every single one since he was elected. He approved overspending on other projects as well.
So did Heather Carruthers. If you include the $10 million assessment reduction, she voted to place an additional $59 million financial burden on county-wide taxpayers. And that’s just one project – Cudjoe Regional. There are several other projects that went way over budget on her watch. Her days of reducing “the size of the County budget by over $22 million” are long over. In fact, she helped increase long-term debt by $158 million since she was first elected in 2008.
It’s inevitable that the sewer projects would drive up long-term debt. Unfortunately, the BOCC spent way beyond what was necessary on the sewer projects and other capital projects besides. There’s the $49 million overage on Cudjoe Regional, of course. There’s also that $38 million overrun on projects that include Bernstein Park and the Upper Keys courthouse. That’s a combined total of $87 million.
At this point, it is unclear if the county even followed basic procedures to protect taxpayer money. For example, the county’s lease agreement with the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) requires a final audit report on the sewer projects. I requested the final audit report for Big Coppitt about a week ago. Nothing yet.
Was that report ever submitted? What did it say? Did it provide adequate assurances that taxpayer money was spent properly? I have no idea.
The Auditor General has this handy list of financial indicators on their website. I’ll be taking a look at some of those to see if I can figure out if what Murphy says can possibly be true. Are the county’s finance’s continuing to improve? How is that feasible with all the overspending and all the borrowing?