Still fairness to find on sewersBy Steve Estes
Now that the Monroe Board of County Commissioners has set the final assessment rates for the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System at $4,500 per EDU, some folks will be breathing sighs of relief that the first shock to the wallet is somewhat lessened.
But not everyone will have fond thoughts.
There is still much gnashing of teeth and anxious moments to go through as commercial enterprises grapple with what many think are unfair levies for sewer hook ups in the regional system.
A $1,200 decrease, particularly when you think about multiple EDU assessments, is always a nice load off the wallet.
We just hope that the county’s estimate of five percent in losses against the original estimate of EDU numbers is accurate.
But what concerns us most is the lack of commission action, or compassion possibly, on what to do with those people who have been caught in financial crosshairs not of their own making.
Over the last three years, any property owner in the Cudjoe Regional service area, which is everything from Lower Sugarloaf to Big Pine, who built a new home or commercial facility was forced by the state Department of Health to install an on-site system that was compatible with advanced standards. They had to do this even though the state had mandated a complete, functioning regional wastewater facility by the end of December 2015.
Additionally, any property owner, residential or commercial, that had a system fail for any reason in that same span has been forced to replace their on-site system with something 2015 compatible.
The cost for those systems, not including the necessary package plants for large-usage commercial enterprises, was between $18,000 and $25,000.
County leadership has known about these possibilities for years. At one point, the late Ken Sorenson, former state representative for this area, got the state Legislature to agree to allow anyone who was slated to be connected to a central plant to put in a much cheaper interim system so the double-whammy wouldn’t be quite so steep.
With the implementation of the Cudjoe Regional now less than three years away, so we’re told, folks who have had to shell out $20,000 or more for a new on-site system will now be forced to abandon that system, which is probably good for another 20 years or more, and pay to hook into the central system when a pipe appears in the street in front of their house.
And if that’s not a serious enough financial blow, they will also have to pay to abandon that recently installed on-site system.
County officials and leadership at the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority had been talking about these property owners’ plights early on in the process, when it looked as though the Cudjoe Regional may never materialize.
Now that the system will materialize, the talk seems to have ceased, or at least gone underground, leaving those affected by the double-slam left out and protecting their collective wallets against the specter of dishing out another $4,500 on top of the $20,000 or more they just shelled out.
Local leadership had talked about allowing those folks so affected to remain off the system until the on-site fails, then hook in, either paying the development fee now in anticipation or waiting until the need arose and paying the fee then.
But a county ordinance requires that anyone with a pipe in the ground hook into that pipe within 30 days.
Talk of changing or modifying that ordinance has not been heard in more than a year. In fact, everyone involved simply says that the ordinance exists, and since it exists, it must be followed.
Excuse us while we say something unkind in mixed company.
We elect our county commissioners to act a couple of ways. We elect them to protect the county’s rules as written, and if they do that, it’s hard to find fault. And we elect them to take a look at the rules that don’t make sense and offer something that does make sense in their stead.
This 30-day mandate is something that doesn’t make sense for scores of local property owners.
FKAA officials have talked about buying those new systems for use in areas that won’t be served by the central system, giving the property owner some relief, and putting those systems back in the ground where they’ll allow someone to meet the standards at a reduced cost.
And this issue isn’t done yet. State regulations still require that new systems be built to 2015 standards, even if they’re going to be abandoned in three years or so, and that failed systems be replaced with advanced treatment systems, even if they’re going to have to be abandoned in three years or less.
Our elected leadership needs to take up this issue now. The financing of the new central system won’t fail if even 100 properties fall into this category as that’s well within the five percent they figure they’ll lose anyway before pipes go in the ground.
We’re looking for a leader on the county commission who understands that paying five times what everyone else is paying just simply isn’t fair, and that something needs to be figured out in the short term to alleviate long-term financial pain to those affected.
The issue must stay at the forefront for now.