Monroe County officials did not return from Tallahassee with suitcases full of cash for wastewater projects, but they did bring back good news from the state Senate and the governor about receiving $50 million for sewer work.
On Wednesday, the Senate agreed to put a $50 million allocation in its budget for the Florida Keys, something the state House of Representatives has done previously, said House Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West.
On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott told a Florida Keys delegation in Tallahassee for Florida Keys Day that he empathized with the fact that the state has ordered them to complete sewer upgrades but has not provided the Keys with any money. Scott related the mandate to his relationship with his mother.
"I love my mother, but I don't like her telling me what to do," Scott said. "I know you have mandates and you feel like the people who give you the mandates should pay for them. I understand that."
Scott agreed to sit down and discuss approving the $50 million allocation, but also noted "the one thing I am trying to do is not constantly increase state debt."
"We will be sitting down and trying to figure that out," Scott said.
Scott said Florida Keys Day and the fact Keys officials came to Tallahassee to make their case was helpful.
"It does have an impact," he said.
Keys officials were optimistic about receiving the $50 million.
"We have never gotten this far before," said County Mayor David Rice. "Everyone is thrilled. It's been a long haul."
The Keys are under a state mandate to have all homes and businesses in the county connected to advanced wastewater treatment systems by Dec. 31, 2015. But some Keys governments are woefully behind when it comes to financing the upgrades. County and municipal governments estimate they still need about $400 million to comply with the mandate. Without state funding, county officials doubt they can make the deadline.
In 2007, the state Legislature agreed to bond $200 million for Keys wastewater projects. However, the state has never allocated the money. The $50 million would be the first installment of that money.
"This is very encouraging," said County Administrator Roman Gastesi.