Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
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Sewer chief: Numbers say Key Largo not getting due

KEY LARGO -- It's no secret the chief of the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District isn't happy with Monroe County.

In a presentation made earlier this month to her board, District Manager Margaret Blank said Key Largo would be better off incorporating. That conclusion, she says, came after she crunched financial information provided by the county.

According to Blank, Key Largo is currently a net recipient of $3.9 million in tax revenues annually. But, she says, that is due to funding for Key Largo's sewer project.

Recently, the county provided data to a group exploring incorporation showing that the island, excluding the private Ocean Reef Club, pays $17 million a year in property taxes to the county and receives $21 million in county services.

"Without the wastewater project, there is a net benefit of over $19 million for Key Largo to incorporate," Blank wrote in a memorandum.

In the 23 years prior to the sewer project, Blank said Key Largo was a donor community, meaning it pays more in taxes than it receives in services. Once sewer construction is complete, that will likely occur again, she says.

The funding pendulum will swing more toward the southern islands if the county uses sales tax money to pay for Lower Keys sewer projects, she said. When county officials campaigned for the penny sales tax extension in November, they said the money would first go to paying for the Cudjoe Key Regional Sewer System.

"We are still unincorporated," Blank said. "We don't get a discount on sales tax because we have a wastewater treatment district."

Recent comments from county officials suggest all customers in the county should pay the same for sewer service.

"So if they're charging $10 a gallon and we're charging $1 a gallon, then we should raise our rates?" Key Largo Wastewater Board member Andy Tobin questioned of the county' position.

Some Key Largo homeowners are taking offense that their taxes will be used to pay for a Lower Keys sewer system.

"All of that money comes out of same pockets," resident Kay Thacker said. "We're paying for Cudjoe and we're paying for Key Largo."

Blank is also part of a group of residents that have begun meeting to discuss whether severing ties with the county would be a financially sound move. Spearheading that group is Key Largo Wastewater Board member Steve Gibbs.

A prior attempt to incorporate Key Largo failed in 1999 by a 2-1 margin.

Blank is expected to make a PowerPoint presentation to the Monroe County Commission is August outlining the funding inequalities she has alleged.

jgore@keysnews.com

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