Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Monroe leaders come home without state sewer funds

Florida Keys dignitaries came back from the state capitol a little empty-handed Tuesday, as legislators told them that Monroe County most likely won't receive $50 million this year in state wastewater funding.

A contingent of Keys leaders traveled to Tallahassee for Florida Keys Day, an annual event in which county officials host parties and meet and lobby state legislators.

Gov. Rick Scott told local elected officials and business leaders it was unlikely the Keys would receive the sewer funding this time around, "based on current revenue projections and debt capacity," County Administrator Roman Gastesi said.

"The leadership said absolutely no new bonding or no new debt," said Keys state Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo.

However, the outlook should be better next year, the governor told Gastesi.

"It is sort of a bad news/good news situation," Gastesi said. "Everyone in Tallahassee knows our issues and wants to help. ... They are definitely committed."

Raschein joked that "instead of the wastewater year, this could be the windstorm (insurance) year." Keys leaders met with State Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty and Citizens Property Insurance Corp. President Barry Gilway.

Gilway told the group that Citizens does plan to reinstate builders' risk insurance policies and will continue to cover homes that are rented transiently.

The state Senate will vote on a bill today that would increase windstorm insurance rates in every other coastal area of the state except Monroe County. If passed, the bill would next go to the state House of Representatives.

Keys leaders also met with Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Secretary Ananth Prasad. Key West Mayor Craig Cates took the opportunity to lobby Prasad on speeding up the pace of the North Roosevelt Boulevard reconstruction project, a two-plus year project that is "55 days behind schedule," Cates said.

The mayor attended a dinner at the governor's house Tuesday night and lobbied Scott on speeding up the work, too.

"The crews in Key West are doing their jobs," Cates said. "It is the contractor that I have a problem with. The contractor is treating this like a part-time job ... FDOT needs to put pressure on the contractor to get this done sooner than later."

Keys officials also were in the state House when Raschein and her colleagues debated an amendment to a Senate bill that provides property-tax exemptions to private companies that partner with the military on housing projects, which is the case in Key West. The Senate approved a bill with an amendment that states the properties would only be exempt if they housed active military personnel, not civilians.

The House agreed to scrap its own companion bill and vote on the Senate version of the bill. However, representatives voted Tuesday to remove the amendment, which would give a blanket exemption to the private companies.

Raschein argued and voted against removal of the amendment. The House is scheduled to vote on the entire bill today.

The bill has major revenue consequences for Monroe County, the city of Key West and the Monroe County School District.

Last year, the Monroe County Property Appraiser's Office revoked the tax-exempt status on five Key West military properties that the Navy owns in partnership with a company called Southeast Housing LLC. The Navy owns the land, and Southeast Housing owns the buildings. The property appraiser also placed $11.3 million in liens that represent property taxes, interest and penalties dating back to January 2007.

The state bill would make the property-tax exemptions retroactive to January 2007, and, without the amendment, would wipe out the property appraiser's liens and keep the tax-exempt status on the five properties in place.

The Key West City Commission and the School Board have passed resolutions opposing the legislation.

tohara@keysnews.com

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