Murphy Blocks Needed Funding For Fire and Emergency Services – Analysis

fire-banner-1071790__480Sadly, the Odious Sylvia Murphy was re-elected to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) this past August.  Since then she’s wasted no time in seeing to it that her constituents in District 5 get the screwing they’ve come to expect.  And like, based on the election results.  While the majority of District 5 taxpayers seem to be okay with being screwed over financially, I am not.  So I’ll be continuing to follow Murphy’s maneuverings very closely.

Even if you are one of those difficult-to-understand Murphy supporters, I hope you’ll read on.  No Key Largo citizen or taxpayer is immune to Murphy’s failure to effectively advocate for her own district.  If you voted for Murphy, just know that you will pay through the nose for your support.  Just the same as the people who didn’t vote for her.

Let’s review Murphy’s track record so far.

  1.  Here is a link to her mealy-mouthed defense of the wastewater funding disparity that has cost Key Largo citizens $26 million.  Supposedly the swap agreement will be used to remedy $17 million of that, but it sure looks like the county is seeking a way out.  And Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District (District) commissioners are in no hurry to pursue financial relief.  That’s for sure.
  2. Murphy’s lazy, do-nothing attitude has contributed to the ongoing high kill rate at the Upper Keys Animal Shelter, which she has no intention of addressing.  She also looked the other way while staff distorted the numbers in an effort to deceive the public about the imbalanced funding practices that would logically contribute to the problem.
  3. Murphy is ineffective at controlling capital costs, often going along with the reckless spending on Lower Keys projects favored by commissioners Carruthers and Kolhage.  She will always find some excuse to fall in line.

But Murphy is not done with Key Largo yet.  She would also like to impose an unfair financial burden when it comes to fire and emergency costs.  In the past, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) has stopped short of playing games with public safety.  Well those days are over.  (They must be getting desperate.)

I’ll lay out a couple of inconvenient facts that Murphy would probably prefer not to advertise.  It’s easier to lead people around by the nose when they don’t know what’s really going on.

  1.  Key Largo is an unincorporated area.  As such, it does not directly receive any of the infrastructure sales tax that it generates.  It must rely on the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) to see that it is distributed fairly.  Obviously that doesn’t happen and will never happen.  (Not until Key Largo citizens decide to stand up for themselves and their community in large enough numbers to be effective.)
  2. The Key Largo area is served by the Key Largo Fire & EMS District (KLFEMS).  KLFEMS operations are paid for through property taxes imposed on the area served.  However, fire and emergency services providers in the Keys pay for capital costs, such as vehicle replacements, with infrastructure sales tax money.  As mentioned above, the Key Largo area does not receive any of this money directly.  That is why the county has historically funded these items in the Key Largo area.
  3. Murphy seems to think that Key Largo citizens signed away their rights to fair funding when the county purchased Rowell’s Marina.  The county constantly uses Rowell’s Marina, which cost $5 million, as an excuse to short-change Key Largo taxpayers on all other capital spending.  The county has spent $4.5 million on Big Pine park (with another $1 million planned for the Big Pine Swimming Hole), and an  astronomical $8 million on Bernstein Park in Stock Island.  So will these areas also be expected to forgo funding for all other capital needs?

The county has $3.2 million in their 2017 capital budget for fire/rescue vehicle purchases.  I asked for details about what was being purchased for each area.  It took three public records requests and three weeks for the county to respond.  It turns out they only provided details on $2.5 million worth of vehicles.  (You have to scroll down to pages 20-21 of the linked email conversation.)  That means a fourth public records request would be needed to figure out what happened to the other $700,000.  (Don’t know that I have the time, energy or patience for that right now.)   As usual, the county has failed to be completely forthcoming.

I also asked for, and received, the latest Project History Report.  I had to tease out and verify some of the fire and emergency expenditures.  For instance, there was a $2 million health and human services expenditure mistakenly included in Tavernier, which would have overstated the amount spent on fire and emergency service in that area.

I think it’s useful to look at this data in a couple of different ways.  Here’s the table sorted based on per capita spending for each area.

fire-ems-by-population

Marathon and Islamorada have low numbers because they incorporated over a decade ago. And they incorporated for good reason – they were getting the Key Largo treatment.  They now receive a share of the infrastructure sales directly.  Their expenditures since incorporation won’t show up in the county’s Project History.  Keys-wide expenditures are low per capita because they serve the entire population of the Keys.

When we look at the unincorporated areas, Key Largo receives the lowest amount of funding per capita.  As with wastewater, parks, and pretty much everything else, there’s nothing here to indicate that Key Largo receives an excessive benefit when it comes to fire and emergency spending.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  There’s nothing to justify Murphy’s refusal to fund replacement emergency vehicles for her own district of Key Largo.

I also sorted the table by the amount spent per square mile.  The county loves trying to explain away their crazy spending sprees by saying that the Lower Keys are a “rural” area.  That claim doesn’t hold up either as you can see from the table below.  Key Largo covers the largest area and has the lowest funding level per square mile.  Again, no matter how you slice it, there’s no reason to deny Key Largo emergency vehicle replacements.

fire-ems-by-area

I should point out one more thing.  The county frequently tries to mislead Key Largo citizens by lumping all their expenditures into the “Upper Keys” and conflating the Upper Keys with Key Largo.  Why is this a problem?

Well, take a look at Ocean Reef.  Ocean Reef has received about three times the amount of funding per capita that Key Largo does.  About 1.5 times more based on dollars per square mile.  Tavernier receives about a third more funding per capita and about twice as much per square mile.  When the Upper Keys are combined the disparities suffered by Key Largo tend to get lost in the shuffle.

What’s really interesting about all this is that the iPhone Bandit was actually trying to be the good guy.  I know!  Incredible.  From the Free Press:

Thomas and district accountant Peter Rosasco met with County Administrator Roman Gastesi as well as Kevin Madok, county senior director of strategic planning, and Cynthia Hall, assistant county attorney.

“What we took away from that meeting is they [Monroe County] do want a five-year ILA,” Thomas said at a March fire district board meeting. “It’s not breaking the bank, it’s nothing that they’re concerned about.”

The county seemed prepared at the time to give the fire district as much as $300,000 or $350,000 a year for capital improvements such as fire trucks and fire hydrants, Thomas told the Free Press last week.

But it was not to be.

However, in an August meeting with the same participants, Gastesi informed Thomas that the county had decided to give the district only $150,000 for fire hydrants.

Murphy swooped in to put a stop to vehicle purchases.

“The reason this meeting came about, we in Key Largo feel that we pay into the 1-cent sales tax, so we deserve to get a portion of that back,” Thomas said last week. “[Monroe County Commissioner) Sylvia Murphy feels we’ve gotten enough back through purchases of Rowell’s Marina, stuff like that.”

The county’s own numbers, as always, fail to back up Murphy’s “feels”.

Gastesi presented Thomas with paperwork showing that the Key Largo community has benefitted from $50 million in projects that the county has paid for from the 1-cent sales tax over the years.

I would imagine that this would be the Project History report.  Or some spreadsheet derived from it.  The Citizen and it’s spawn, the Free Press, don’t link to these documents.  We wouldn’t want the taxpayers to have a clue as to what’s really going on now would we?  Nope, we sure don’t.  Better to treat them like mushrooms, right?

The iPhone Bandit, has made similar unfounded claims to justify disparities of all kinds.  All of which have been debunked over and over again.  I guess I’ll have to debunk once again.

I took the latest Project History Report provided by the county and summarized it using a pivot table.  (Please excuse ugly formatting.  Too lazy to make it pretty right now.)  According to the county’s own document, about $61 million has been spent in the Upper Keys.  That certainly seems like a big number, doesn’t it?  Well, not when you compare it to what’s been spent in the Lower Keys – $192 million.

project-spending

By the county’s own “logic”, if Stock Island is getting an $8 million park, then they should get zero emergency vehicles going forward.  This is not my reasoning, by the way.  It’s the county’s.  If you don’t like it, call them.

I think if emergency vehicles are coming to the end of their useful life, they need to be replaced.  And, as an unincorporated area, Key Largo is entitled to use sales tax money to pay for that.  Just like any other unincorporated area.

Murphy’s decision to block funding has placed her own constituents in a position where they are paying twice for emergency vehicles.  They pay the sales tax, which funds emergency vehicle purchases Keys-wide.  But since Murphy blocked funding, Key Largo taxpayers are obligated to pay for those replacements through the property tax imposed by KLFEMS.

Unfortunately, as it stands now, the majority of Key Largo citizens seem content to pay double for services.  This is impossible for me to understand.  I don’t know why that is and I don’t know how to fix it.  I can’t fix it.  My only idea is to keep putting the information out there in the hope that Key Largo-ans will catch on some day, and start advocating for fair treatment.

 

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