Monroe County is still at it. The other day I wrote about how Sylvia Murphy has blocked fair funding for her own district – again. Meaning that folks in Key Largo are being subjected to double taxation – again. While the county uses the infrastructure sales tax to purchase emergency vehicles for the other unincorporated areas, they have refused to do so for Key Largo. As a result, the Key Largo Fire District may be forced to raise property taxes in order to pay for the needed replacements.
Key Largo (excluding the Tavernier area) contributes about $3.5 million of the infrastructure sales tax to Monroe County each year – the highest in the unincorporated area. But the other unincorporated areas benefit from the sales tax to a far greater extent.
Because it is an unincorporated area, Key Largo must rely on Monroe County to distribute the infrastructure sales tax fairly. As we know all too well, that does not happen. The county is way too preoccupied with squandering enormous amounts of taxpayer money on wasteful projects to prioritize fair funding throughout the unincorporated area. Besides the efficiency of Key Largo’s independent districts makes them look bad. They suffer by comparison and they don’t like it one bit.
The iPhone Bandit produced another “Craptacular” spreadsheet to excuse the BOCC’s unconscionable decision to once again impose double taxation on the Key Largo area. Since I’ve already debunked the first “Craptacular” spreadsheet, I won’t bother debunking the second. Besides, the BOCC has devised another flawed argument that needs to be addressed:
Double taxation is justified because Key Largo’s special districts can provide comparable (or even better) levels of service at a much lower cost than the county can.
Here’s what the county had to say according to this item from the Citizen/Free Press.
“I’m surprised to hear, actually, that the district itself can’t stand on its own,” County Commissioner Danny Kolhage said.
Fair funding is a reasonable expectation. It is the least that Key Largo taxpayers deserve. It’s the least any taxpayer deserves. The Key Largo fire district can stand on its own just fine. It’s the county who keeps spending itself into a corner, and expecting Key Largo taxpayers to bail them out by accepting inequitable funding.
“It is not even a dilemma,” responded County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy. “Because the legislation came from the department, came from [former state Rep.] Ken Sorensen and [former County Commissioner] Murray Nelson. The state did not set that cap, and I can pretty much guarantee that if Key Largo fire and ambulance said they need to raise that cap, it would pass overwhelmingly in a referendum.”
Murphy has worked overtime to damage her own constituents in Key Largo, and the issue of emergency vehicle replacements is no exception. This entire statement is a distraction technique to evade the double taxation issue. Key Largo generates the infrastructure sales tax just like any other unincorporated area and should benefit from it just like any other unincorporated area. End of story.
Both of Key Largo’s special districts were created because of the county’s continued failure to provide fair, efficient, cost-effective services. Rather than resenting the fire district, Murphy should thank them. She should also look into why county services cost so much more and look for ways to save taxpayers money. Perhaps the county should look at farming out fire and emergency services to neighboring agencies who function more efficiently. For example, maybe Key West could provide services to the Stock Island area. Key Largo could serve Tavernier.
It is not up to Key Largo citizens to over-contribute tax-wise in order to rescue the county from their own overspending and inefficiency.
County Administrator Roman Gastesi pointed out that the district could have raised more revenue to meet its needs.
“We have 120 miles worth of capital improvements and capital things we need to do,” Gastesi said in reference to county projects. “And frankly, they still have cap in their number, you know? They have .9. They could have easily gone to .97, and that’s the $200,000 right there that they are asking us for.”
The iPhone Bandit is obediently repeating Murphy’s flawed argument. They’re like Frick and Frack. How adorable. But like his boss, he’s trying to bury the real issue – double taxation.
County Commissioner George Neugent acknowledged that Key Largo generates a large amount of sales tax money, from which the county draws upon for the interlocal agreement for capital improvements.
“But you’ve got to recognize that we’ve got to take care of what we’re responsible for while also helping you guys out whenever we can,” Neugent told Thomas.
The county has an obligation to provide a comparable level of service to all the unincorporated areas. It’s not optional. It’s not something to be done when there’s spare change available. It is the county’s full-time job, and they fail at it again and again.
Using the county’s disastrously mismanaged capital improvements program as an excuse to withhold fair funding is absurd and ridiculous. The county owes it to all Keys taxpayers to bring spending under control. In fact, the efficient performance of Key Largo’s special districts helps all taxpayers by reducing overall costs. Rather than punishing them, the county should be thanking them.
There have been some good ideas floated that could improve county government – single member districts and term limits. I think those ideas are worth pursuing. But the Key Largo community faces a very special set of circumstances. One, they are a major generator of the infrastructure sales tax (and other taxes). Two, they have a proven track record of providing efficient public services – far more efficient than the county ever could.
As an unincorporated area served by two independent special districts, Key Largo is “half pregnant”. While the special districts provide efficient, cost-effective service they have no direct access to the infrastructure sales tax and certain other taxes. When it comes to the wastewater project, Key Largo citizens actually pay more despite lower costs. This is unacceptable.
Key Largo taxpayers will suffer more of the same unless they make some drastic changes. The only permanent, reliable solution is incorporation. Key Largo has already proven that it has the right stuff. It’s long past time to pull the trigger.