Fake News and Canal News

deceive-1299043__340It turns out fake news is a thing these days, and it’s not just the Key West Citizen.  Google and Facebook are changing their policies to avoid displaying ads on “sites containing content that is illegal, misleading or deceptive, which includes fake news”.

Here’s another angle on the whole issue.  It turns out teenagers in Macedonia make fake news sites to generate a extra pocket money.  Who knew?  You can make some pretty good coin just by making up fake news stories that attract a lot of hits.  And here I am slogging through documents and boring videos for free!  I could learn a thing or two from those Macedonian teenagers (and the Key West Citizen).  Why dig it up when you can just make it up?

A report in BuzzFeed News last month showed how tiny publishers in Macedonia were creating websites with fake news – much of it denigrating Clinton – which were widely shared on Facebook .

That sharing in turn led people to click on links which brought them to the Macedonian websites, which could then make money on the traffic via Google ‘s AdSense.

This brings me to the next item.  The Citizen is reporting that the county commission voted against a canal tax.  The true impact of the canal projects is still unclear.

This bit is a little confusing.

For now, the projects, which could end up totaling $672 million, will be paid through federal Restore Act and state Florida Keys Stewardship Act funding, which would generate at least $1.5 million to $2 million a year.

The county may also leverage that funding to apply for state and federal grant funding. The county has spent roughly $7 million on a half-dozen pilot canal restoration projects so far.

The ultimate cost of these projects has ricocheted from between $200 million to $700 million.  County staff had been using a figure of $300 million most recently.  Now a new number is popping out at us – $672 million.  I think the taxpayers would be wise to count on a cost of $700 million at the very least.  Remember that county projects routinely exceed budgeted amounts.  So maybe something over $1 billion (yeah – billion with a “b”) wouldn’t be off the table.  My understanding is that $672 figure excludes operating costs.

It’s unclear exactly how much county-wide taxpayers have been forced to contribute so far.  There’s also very little information on how much it will cost the taxpayers to operate and maintain these projects going forward.  I’ll take a look at the meeting backup, the video and the project history report to see what I can figure out.  I might even submit another public records request, which is always super fun.  Unfortunately, if you want to find out the truth of things in the Keys you have to do your own homework.  Thankfully, I don’t mind a little homework.

County staff proposed a tax that would generate a modest $1 million a year and cost property owners an extra $38.47 a year for a $400,000 home and an extra $18.53 for a home that cost nearly $300,000.

However, the commissioners and most of the public said it is too soon to implement a county-wide tax at this time. They said there has not been enough time to monitor the seven pilot projects and want to see the result of the central sewer projects on the health of canals.

I want to point out that taxes are based on taxable value, not the purchase price of a home.  (Sounds nitpicky but it can make a big difference.)  However, I did check one area where a canal project has been completed and the taxable values are roughly $250,000 to $450,000.  So it’s a distinction without a difference in that particular case.

It’s too early to go forward with these projects at all.  The taxpayers are out the $7 million that’s been spent so far.  We’re also out whatever has been spent on operation and maintenance so far.  However, according to the Citizen, the county commission has actually imposed a tax on the properties that benefit in order to cover operation and maintenance costs going forward.

The commission did approve creating a multiple service benefit unit tax for property owners living along the roughly half dozen canals the county restored as part of the series of pilot programs.

The tax would be levied on those homeowners to cover the $88,000 in annual operation and maintenance costs that resulted from the projects to restore the water quality in those canals, which are in Key Largo, Big Pine Key and Geiger Key.

Frankly, I don’t believe that tax will ever materialize.  Obviously, I’ll keep an eye on it, but even if it does happen it won’t show up on the tax roll until late 2017.

If the Citizen’s reporting is to be believed (questionable) and if the county commission is to be believed (very questionable) then there is reason to hope that county-wide taxpayers won’t get slammed with the ongoing costs associated with maintaining these canal projects.  However, there is still reason to be concerned that they will continue to be soaked for capital costs as these massive resource sucks continue to move forward.

I will continue to monitor and research.  Even though it’s easier (and more profitable) to just make stuff up.

p.s.  It might also be worthwhile to look at who has benefited so far and see if any of these very fortunate property owners have ties to the county commission.  More homework.

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