Leaders need to get behind tax

By Steve Estes

Now that the hotly contested primary elections are behind us, all eyes turn toward November when voters will again face a very lengthy ballot, including the selection of a US President for the next four years.

Run-of-the-mill politics aside, the November vote is an important one for Monroe County.

It is on that ballot that voters will be asked to extend the one cent infrastructure sales tax collected by Monroe County for 15 years to help pay for the final costs associated with the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater system.

That system, the largest yet undertaken by unincorporated Monroe, is expected to cost between $130 and $150 million.

The county had planned to use state money for a larger portion, but a promised $200 million has thus far yielded only $50 million, just $30 million for the Cudjoe Regional.

Officials plan to get just over $40 million from assessments to property owners. Another $20 million or more will be paid by surplus in the sales tax fund that has been collected and not spent over the last decade, leaving $40 million to $60 million to be paid by the sales tax.

With the influx of state money, and the collection of assessments, the county will have passed the point of no return on the financing of that system, designed to service about 8,800 EDUs (equivalent dwelling units or roughly equal to the average water flow to a single-family home).

That means that once a shovel turns dirt, there is no stopping the project.

And that makes passage of the sales tax extension of vital importance to residents in the Cudjoe Regional service area because if the tax doesn’t pass, the county will have to levy special property tax assessments to complete the system, or hope a stingy, financially strapped state government produces the rest of the $200 million.

We can probably guess which of those two options would come first.

We have hard rumblings from folks in areas that have already benefitted from the county’s largesse with sales tax funds toward paying for central wastewater projects, that they don’t want to pay any more taxes because they’ve already paid for their system.

And these same folks are under the mistaken impression that no one else in the county contributed toward those projects.

Hate to break this to those folks, but every person who bought anything in the last two decades in some fashion contributed money toward their system because the county used sales tax money to fund those systems.

So the Lower Keys has been paying into the fund for 20 years, and now needs to dip into that till for its own use. Just fair play should be enough to pass the tax extension, but we fear that won’t be the case.

So here is our challenge to our elected leadership.

Every week, one of the county’s top echelon of leaders should be hitting up some civic group, some business group, some gathering of people anywhere and espousing the need to continue the tax, not just for Cudjoe Regional sewers, but for the myriad of road and bridge projects, criminal justice projects, park renovation projects, and facility upgrade projects that are yet on the table.

For those are the uses to which the money will be put after the Cudjoe Regional is financed.

Such talk can’t come from the leaders of those groups. That talk must come from the people making the decisions, the people who want the tax to continue to provide an equitable funding solution for their tax payers.

We want to hear of some group, some where, every week, that has a county commissioner as a guest speaker extolling the need for the passage of the sales tax extension.

There are incentives for everyone to get behind the measure, but the current anti-tax rhetoric that fills the airwaves and publications these days like its coming from a trash-talking linebacker, might be the loudest voice heard.

The county commission might have the support of the municipal leaders, but they are only one vote per person.

They need to drum up the support of thousands for each of them.

This is a tax that we have been paying for more than 20 years. It will simply be a continuation of that same tax, and we will realize the same benefits.

Passage is a good idea.

It will take a concerted effort from our elected county leadership to turn that good idea into a functioning reality.

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