State needs to do right by Monroe

By Steve Estes

It could be just days before we learn the fate of a promised $50 million in bond money from the state this year to jump-start the remaining central wastewater systems in the county.

A bond of $200 million was promised several years ago but no money has been coming out of the fiscally challenged state Legislature since that promise was made. During that time, the state economy followed the rest of the country and the world into the economic tank, straining local resources to the limit to pick up the slack normally filled by state or federal money.

Facing us is a need for about $150 million to build the last, and largest, central wastewater collection system in the Cudjoe Regional service area. And thus far we have been tasked to do that with no solid revenue stream.

A one-penny infrastructure sales tax that has been in place for two decades has been maxed out to pay off existing wastewater system development costs, and runs out in 2018.

County officials are hopeful that voters will reauthorize the tax in November to run another 15 to 20 years. That will give them about a third of what they need for the Cudjoe Regional system. Individual properties will be charged $5,700 per equivalent dwelling unit, raising about another third of the needed money.

That left a $50 million shortfall that no one was sure how to make up.

Monroe County has been operating under a state mandate to have advanced wastewater systems installed by 2010, a deadline we missed by a half-decade at least, and now under a new deadline of 2015, which we are highly unlikely to meet.

We have been waiting on the state to live up to its promise of money because we don’t have it.

During the last Legislative session, the state House added the $50 million allocation to its budget and local officials were able to get the Senate to buy off on the amendment during a conference discussion before the session ended.

That joint-chamber budget is headed for Governor Rick Scott’s desk, maybe as early as the next Administrative Commission meeting just days away.

And the money is just the Governor’s pen stroke away from being available to us.

We of course won’t get the entire $50 million. Some of it will have to go to Islamorada to help them in getting their not-yet-started system off the ground.

But if we can convince the other half-dozen or so sewer authorities that giving unincorporated Monroe County the lion’s share of the money (about $30 million) is simply the right thing to do, county officials are convinced that the Cudjoe Regional can not only get to the point of putting pipes in the ground, it maybe enough with the other local sources to finish the job.

We would urge Gov. Scott to do what is right by Monroe County and fulfill an ignored promise by signing the portion of the state budget containing our wastewater money.

We know he didn’t make the promise, but he inherited the promise, and he took the job.

Should the Governor sign the budget, it remains only that our local voters understand the importance of approving the tax extension. For more than 20 years, every person who spends money in Monroe County has contributed to the fund that partially built central wastewater systems for every other authority in the county.

And that everybody includes every resident of the Lower Keys who ever bought anything.

We ask that Gov. Scott do what’s right and make good on the state’s promise, and urge out fellow voters to do what’s right and continue to allow everyone to chip in on finishing wastewater in Monroe County.

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