Cudjoe project moving forwardBy Steve Estes
Monroe County officials say they feel confident Governor Rick Scott will sign a proposed state budget in the coming weeks that includes money to bond the first $50 in promised sewer funds for the county.
And because of that confidence, the Board of County Commissioners will be asked Wednesday to make a series of decisions that will allow the last remaining major central wastewater system for the Cudjoe Regional service area to begin to move forward again after several years of stagnation.
”The $50 million will kick off the last two systems remaining in the county, the Cudjoe Regional and Islamorada,” said County Administrator Roman Gastesi. “We are confident that with the funding plan we have in place, we will be able to finish the systems without interruption.”
According to County Engineer Kevin Wilson, if all goes as planned, construction on the Cudjoe Regional, the largest system yet undertaken by the county, can begin in 2013 and possibly be completed by 2016.
That is a year past the deadline imposed by the state, but Gastesi said that the state will probably extend that deadline if the county is making good progress toward completion.
The $50 million is supposed to be divvied up amongst all seven of the sewer entities in the county, but Gastesi says county staff has been seeking approval from the municipalities and Key Largo Wastewater Treatment to allow the first installment from the state to be front-loaded to unincorporated Monroe and Islamorada. That would give $30 million to unincorporated Monroe projects and $20 million to Islamorada. All of the county’s share would go to the Cudjoe Regional.
“We have head nod agreements from most of them, but we’re still waiting on paperwork to solidify their positions,” said Gastesi.
The BOCC will be asked Wednesday to give approval to begin the work necessary to bring the Cudjoe Regional to fruition.
The Cudjoe system will be designed to serve 10,000 EDUs (equivalent dwelling units or the flow from a typical single-family home) at its peak, covering units from Lower Sugarloaf to Big Pine.
The treatment plant, to be located at the Cudjoe Key transfer station, will be the first phase of construction. Transmission lines and collections lines for Upper Sugarloaf, Cudjoe and Summerland Keys will follow.
The final phase will be the installation of transmission lines and collection pipes for Lower Sugarloaf, Ramrod Key, the Torches and Big Pine.
The populations in the three “core system” islands is much more compact, says Wilson. It will take longer to install lines for the less-densely populated expanded system.
The BOCC has been reluctant to approve moving forward on the Cudjoe Regional for the last several years because the county’s coffers were dry and no one was certain how the anticipated $150 million in development costs could be paid for.
County staff also plans to ask the BOCC for permission to set up the process whereby the county can begin collecting ad valorem taxes through municipal taxing districts, otherwise known as MSTUs.
The property tax rate for previous MSTUs such as Big Coppitt and Baypoint was .27 mils but neither Gastesi nor Wilson would commit on the MSTU assessment for the remaining areas.
“We will be hiring a consultant to do the tax roll work and come up with a recommendation that raises enough money for the work the MSTU will pay for,” said Gastesi.
The property tax will pay for primarily staff and consultant time to do the administrative work necessary to finish the final design phases of the Cudjoe Regional project.
Wilson says that most of that design work is done, with about half of the expanded service area yet to be completed.
The BOCC will also be asked to approve some funding for the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority so that it can begin the process of selecting a contractor for the work.
“It is in that process that we hope we’ll see some decrease in estimated costs,” said Gastesi. “The economy has made people hungry for work and we hope that the final costs will come in around $130 million or so.”
Every dollar saved on construction is money that won’t have to be borne by taxpayers in some fashion.
Even though the state will be paying off the bonds, the funds will come from tax collections around the state.
Commissioners will also be asked to set a final hook up fee for users of the Cudjoe Regional system. The interim fee was set at $5,700 last year, and staff wants to make that number permanent.
“Once the system is underway or completed, that price may change for late comers, but the BOCC has already locked in the $5,700 until 2015,” said Gastesi.
That year was the newest deadline, a deadline county officials admit they won’t make, but they also are confident they will get the necessary extension.
The hook up fee is expected to raise about a third of the money needed to build the system. Another third is anticipated to come from a one-cent infrastructure sales tax that voters will be asked to extend for 15 years in November. The final third is the now highly anticipated state bonding money.
“We feel good about the future of the project,” said Gastesi.