Non-profit billed $50,000 for field

By Steve Estes

In the chaotic world that is wastewater in the Lower Keys these days, everyone involved knows there are going to be some changes to the way the assessments are going to be handled.

First, there is a good chance, according to Commissioner George Neugent, that the fee will be lowered from the current $5,700 per EDU to maybe as low as $4,500 at the July 18 public hearing of the Board of County Commissioners. The BOCC must set rates at that meeting to meet deadlines associated with tax bill production.

The BOCC also has yet to decide what the yearly tax bite will be for the Municipal Services Taxing Unit for eventual users of the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System. That tax can be a maximum of $70 per $100,000 of home valuation yearly and will be used to pay for the county’s administrative costs in managing the wastewater system implementation.

But one of the chief issues the county will face in the coming months, probably years, is figuring out exactly how many EDUs will be charged for use of the system. An EDU stands for equivalent dwelling unit and is roughly equal to the average water usage of a typical single-family home. For those properties that use more water than the average, they will be charged additional EDUs for hook up, with correspondingly higher sewer bills in the future.

For instance, the county’s consultant that was hired to manage the assessment program has informed county officials, albeit not directly, that Monroe County will owe itself more than $50,000 in assessment fees for one property.

Last week the Big Pine Athletic Association received its assessment notice. In that notice, the non-profit was informed that it would owe 8.8 EDUs, or more than $50,000 in hook up fees.

Big Pine Athletic owns Watson Field on Key Deer Blvd. The sports field, tennis court, dog park complex is leased to the county for $1 per year as a public park. As part of that lease, the county pays for all expenses, including utility expenses.

BPAA recently became subsidiary of the Boys and Girls Club of the Keys. The former organization was having volunteer issues and rather than disband folded itself under the club’s youth services umbrella.

That means the club is being billed $50,000 for wastewater hook up, but since the county pays all utility costs at the field, the county in essence is billing itself for money to pay its own expenses in developing the Cudjoe Regional system.

County Engineer Kevin Wilson said he hasn’t had the opportunity to look at the lease in detail to see if that’s what county consultants actually did.

He said that normally county-owned properties are extracted from the ownership data before the master list is produced because having the taxpayer pay the taxpayer isn’t exactly a great use of resources. But the county doesn’t own the property, although it is responsible for paying the bills.

Boys and Girls Club Director Dan Dombroski said that charging anyone 8.8 EDUs for hook up fees at Watson Field is “ludicrous.”

The field is used only sparingly during youth sports seasons, with intermittent use of the tennis courts and rather heavy use of the dog park.

But Dombroski and Steve Miller, long-time President of BPAA, say that 8.8 EDUs, which means the field uses 880 percent more water than the typical home, is way out of line.

“I can’t see 8.8 EDUs on that property, either,” said Wilson.

For non-residential properties, EDU calculations were based on the highest three months usage of the year for the preceding three years.

That would be during youth league baseball season, said Miller.

The field has a small concession stand, a bathroom and a drinking fountain. The dog park has water usage for hydrating animals.

“That can’t be anywhere near 1,400 gallons per day,” said Miller. “That would mean someone is leaving the spigots on for days on end.”

The field does have an irrigation system, water that would never be flushed into a sewer pipe.

“And we don’t want people to have to pay for water that doesn’t go back into the sanitary sewer system,” said Wilson.

Based one the current calculations, the county would be paying the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority about $250 monthly for sewer service.

Property owners who believe their EDU calculation is incorrect have the right to appeal the assessment.

In this case, the county has to appeal its own assessment against its hand-picked board to determine appeals to get out from under the potential $50,000 charge and the resulting high sewer bill.

“I’m not exactly sure that’s the route we would have to go, but we will research the issue,” said Deputy County Administrator Debbie Frederick.

For Dombroski, the assessment means that the recent merge between the BPAA and Boys and Girls Club would have to be reconsidered.

“That assessment, if we have to pay it, puts us out of business,” he said.

BPAA receives about $40,000 per year from the county to offset expenses in overseeing youth leagues, money that now goes to the club for those same costs.

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