Money for Who?

elections-1527438__480Update:  Here’s another article from the Keynoter/Reporter.  According to this, the money will be split among the entities in accordance with the 2013 interlocal agreement – meaning that the county will not be able to funnel it all to their wasteful and ridiculous canal projects.  KLWTD will supposedly get $3.3 million, which could go toward addressing the funding inequity that the state has historically tried to make worse.  The budget still has to go to the governor.  We’ll see what happens.

It looks like the Keys will be getting $13.3 million from the state.  That’s good I guess.  It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally learned not to get too over-excited.

Unfortunately, state money has a poor track record in the Keys.  When it has come through in the past, its been deployed in a way that only feeds corruption and waste.  Your every day citizen/taxpayer sees little benefit, but well-connected bubbas certainly do.

You can find a bit of history here.

Here’s a description of what this state money will supposedly bring to the Keys community.

The Keys will receive $13.3 million through the Florida Keys Stewardship Act, $4.5 million for a Florida Keys Community College Upper Keys campus, $200,000 for vessel pump out programs and $500,000 for Mote Marine Laboratory’s coral reef restoration and research programs, Florida Keys state Rep. Holly Raschein said.

An Upper Keys community college campus is good.  Can’t object to that or the pump out program, or coral reef restoration.

Here’s what grabs my attention in a negative way.

However, the funding did not include money for acquisition of conservation land, only for water quality projects.

Exactly which water quality projects are we talking about?  That isn’t specified.  Reality has trained me to view state funding for the Keys with a great deal of skepticism.  So my assumption right now is that this money will be squandered on the county’s pointless and outrageously wasteful canal restoration projects, which are already primed to drain Keys taxpayers for decades to come.

Remember that when state money lands in county hands, it only partially offsets wastefulness.  It does nothing to mitigate overall costs for local taxpayers.  The Cudjoe Regional sewer project is a prime example.  The $30 million in state money for that project prompted a $49 million spending spree – $59 million if you include the $10 million assessment reduction to placate Cudjoe Regional customers.  The extra $29 million comes from county-wide taxpayers from Key Largo to Key West.  People have to be realistic about that and try not to get too starry-eyed.  In county hands, state money only spurs wasteful spending.  The end result is a greater overall cost burden on local taxpayers.

The state has shown itself to be extremely hostile to efficient, cost-effective projects.  The Key Largo sewer project, of course, is a perfect example of that.  As you might recall, the state withheld funding for Key Largo ratepayers because their project met the state-mandated deadline.  Add the fact that the project came in under budget.  That was obviously not much appreciated in the bizarro world of Tallahassee.  As a result of that along with other malfeasance, Key Largo citizens unjustifiably pay more for their sewer project than other taxpayers in the unincorporated area.  As far as I know, the state still stands behind this policy.

As for conservation land, the county has no plan for that.  Although it’s a legitimate need, you can be sure that any taxpayer money directed to that effort would only go to waste.  Another willy-nilly food fight would happen in the dark and would result in yet another give-away of taxpayer money.

I hesitate to give the state too much credit, but land acquisition in the Keys is not a great investment right now and the state actually appears to recognize that fact.  The county should not get any state money or spend any local money on land acquisition until they come up with a transparent plan, consistent with stated goals.

Here’s a comical quote from the Citizen’s article.

Local Keys governments are concerned that once the state stops issuing Rate of Growth Ordinance (ROGO) Units, which are needed to develop vacant lots into residential units, the county and cities could face expensive takings lawsuits from property owners who can’t develop their lots.

“We need to stress to the state legislators that our land acquisition needs are different from that of the rest of the state,” Monroe County government Legislative Affairs Director Lisa Tennyson said.

Why so comical?

When Rep. Raschein stated that the Florida Keys Stewardship Act (FKSA) was all about the environment, including a county plan to purchase conservation land, county staff immediately denied there was any such plan.  Under pressure, they eventually coughed up a collection of documents, but there’s certainly nothing resembling a plan.  And even if there is a plan, it hasn’t been publicly vetted.  Besides, when has the county ever followed their own plans?

Now here’s Lisa Tennyson lamenting the lack of state support for the county’s “land acquisition needs”.  Would be funny if weren’t so pathetic.  Maybe state officials are curious as to how state money would actually achieve the county’s stated goal.  I know I am.  What land does the county plan to buy?  Will it be purchased at a reasonable price?  What is a reasonable price?  How would that be determined?  Is a purchasing program financially sustainable in the long-term?  Or will the county simply enrich a few friends and then abandon the effort?  Would the county be better off simply defending and/or settling takings lawsuits?  What’s the track record there?  What is the likely level of financial exposure of lawsuits versus a massive land purchase program?  Has that been quantified in any way?  If not, why not?  I understand there are a lot of unknowables, but why just throw more taxpayer money into the furnace without even attempting to answer these questions?  Seems irresponsible, doesn’t it?

Maybe Tennyson should start her lobbying effort by stressing the importance of land acquisition to her own colleagues.  They don’t seem to be up to speed on the issue either.

As always, it’s impossible to see how all this will actually shake out until it’s all over, but I’m very pessimistic.  I predict that most of the state money for water quality projects will be squandered on canal restoration.  No sewers where they’re still needed, like Cross Key or Key Haven.  No financial relief for Key Largo or other areas unfairly over-burdened by their sewer projects.  No fixing the failing sewer systems that the state has already thrown money at, like Big Coppitt or Duck Key.  Too bad.

Ah well…it’s only taxpayer money.  Set it on fire.

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