KEY LARGO -- When island voters take to the polls next week, one item on the ballot, if approved, would provide sewer rate discounts to disabled residents. How much of a discount must be determined later by the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District.
Passage of the referendum could increase the average customer's bill by around 75 cents a month in order to cover the costs of the program, according to interim manager Paul Christian and board member Robby Majeska.
"It doesn't mean everyone's bill is going to increase," Majeska said. "It just means it could go up a little."
The referendum, if passed, would give the board the ability to discount, or waive altogether, rates for about 300 customers.
Majeska said the board is leaning toward decreasing the base rate for these individuals by $20 per month. This would give such customers a $240 break on their annual bill.
"This is about people who are scrounging to pay their bill," he said.
If passed Aug. 26, customers won't see immediate effects to their bill as the board still needs to agree on the details of the discount.
"All the referendum does is give the board the ability to create a discount program," Christian said.
Board member Andy Tobin supports the measure, saying it should be left to the voters.
"This is about letting the customers decide if they want it or not," he said.
The district for years has discussed whether to provide some of its fixed-income customers with assistance. While a bill passed earlier this year by the Florida Legislature sought to accomplish that, the district was advised by the bill's legislative committee to submit its own language to local voters for approval. That would also enable the district to have greater control over the discount and costs associated with the program.
"We've been trying to find a way to offer some form of assistance for our low-income customers for a long time, but the costs associated with administering a program on our own were so high," said Margaret Blank, who recently moved from the district's manager post to an inside consulting post.
Under the state bill passed earlier this year, the monthly base facility charge of $33.60 would most likely be reduced or waived for customers who qualify. However, if completely waived, the sewer district would be faced with a loss of $131,000 annually, according to legislative documents. That loss would have to be absorbed by the other customers whose base facility charge would increase by $14.62 annually.
The referendum Key Largo voters will be asked to vote for on Aug. 26 would effect those 60 years or older or veterans who are designated 100 percent disabled and meet federal low-income requirements. It would benefit a few hundred people, according to the district, which has budgeted $10,000 for the project this year.
The referendum language doesn't specify how much of a decrease qualified residents would receive. The district must determine that later. The ballot item needs to carry at least 60 percent of the vote to pass.