ISLAMORADA -- A united Village Council last week gave the go ahead for consultants to begin preparing a second $20 million wastewater assessment that, if passed, would go into effect in the fall.
"No, we don't want to be assessed, but it's a necessary evil to meet the guidelines of the state," Councilman Mike Forster said at the March 28 meeting.
The assessment, which would not apply to those served by the existing north Plantation Key system, would go toward paying for the $115 million sewer system the town began building late last year at the state's behest.
Council members expressed their support for the new levy on the same day that they approved an additional $20 million low-interest sewer loan from the state.
The council must pass the assessment in two formal hearings slated for June and July in order for it to become official. But as it is currently proposed, the levy would mimic the one the village put into place in 2011.
That means home and condominium owners could expect to see their current wastewater assessment payments double to just over $500 per year.
Taken alone, the second assessment would cost $3,196 for homeowners who pay up front. For those who chose to be billed annually, the cost would be an estimated $256 per year over its 25-year lifespan, bringing the total to $6,400.
Businesses would be assessed based upon their water usage, with those that use more than 10 times as much water as the typical home getting a per-capita break.
Meanwhile, the village also announced its latest estimate last week of how much the central sewer system will cost ratepayers monthly once it begins operating. The news was good, at least in comparison to January 2012, when the bill was estimated at $115 monthly, not counting assessment payments.
Since then, the village received a $20 million wastewater grant from the state and entered into a $91 million sewer construction contract that was lower than earlier estimates. In addition, Keys voters extended a 1-cent infrastructure sales tax in November, assuring that money from that tax will continue flowing annually to the village through 2033. The village is expected to reap $1.7 million from the tax this year, according to county estimates.
Those financial boosts have dropped the estimated typical residential sewer bill to $74 a month, rate consultant Tony Hairston told the council.
By comparison, the average Key Largo resident pays $55 a month for sewer service, the average Marathon resident pays $68 a month and the average customer of the village's north Plantation Key system pays $64 a month.
Hairston's estimates on the monthly bills don't include assessment payments, which would be approximately $42 a month for those who don't pay up front.
Counting the assessment, monthly sewer costs are now estimated at $116 for the typical village home.
Council members emphasized that they are still in pursuit of federal and state grants to bring down the rates.
"This is the worst-case scenario if we don't get any money," Mayor Ken Philipson said.