Monroe County voters approved one referendum that will generate $50 to $60 million for Florida Keys wastewater projects and another ballot item that could allow voters -- not the governor -- to choose the members of the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority board.
Voters approved a referendum to extend a one-cent sales tax, set to expire in 2018, to 2033, which will fund wastewater projects.
The countywide sales tax would generate about $13 million annually for the county, $5 million annually for the city of Key West and about $2 million a year each for Marathon and Islamorada, according to County Administrator Roman Gastesi. In addition to wastewater, the money could be spent on parks and other capital projects.
"It's a relief," Gastesi said of the voter approval. "Now we can get to the business of completing wastewater and other projects."
The county will be using most of its share of the sales tax money to design and build the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater Treatment System.
In July, the County Commission set a connection fee of $4,500 per residential dwelling unit. If the referendum did not pass, connection fees could have reached upwards of $20,000, county officials said.
The project will serve Cudjoe, Summerland and Big Pine keys and remote areas of the Lower Keys.
Islamorada needs its share of the money to complete major sewer projects in its community. Islamorada and the county are the last to complete major sewer projects.
The County Commission agreed in March to ask the voters if the Aqueduct Authority board should go from a governor- appointed to an elected board. The commission began discussing the referendum question in December after the water utility board accepted Executive Director Jim Reynolds' resignation and immediately promoted General Counsel Kirk Zuelch to replace him and rehired Bob Feldman as general counsel.
The decisions were made without public discussion or conducting a local or national search for the two positions.
The abrupt management changes led to speculation about Reynolds' departure and political undercurrents at the utility.