FKAA needs to jump on tax issue

By Steve Estes

Now that the development of the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater system is heading into full-steam-ahead mode, it’s time for both the elected and appointed officials who will guide this process to think of ways to aid everyone in the county in paying off this massive debt.

It’s great that the state promised us $50 million. And that should hit our coffers very soon. It is that money that will go toward the building of the centralized treatment plant on Cudjoe Key and hopefully finish all the planning work for the rest of the system, as well as put a few pipes in the ground.

Property owner assessments are already being paid, and those who can’t afford to pay up front will be coughing up the $4,500 assessment fee over the next 20 years on their tax bill payments.

That will put a lot of pipes in the ground.

There is more than $20 million left over from the infrastructure sales tax that we have been paying fro more than two decades. It is the extension of that tax officials hope will pay for the rest of the Cudjoe Regional, as well as give some back to the sewer authorities who have had to borrow money to build what they have thus far.

It will take voter approval to extend that tax.

And we need all the help we can get.

For the sewer authorities that have already begun putting pipes in the ground, we have heard grumbling that they want the sales tax to stop. Since we’re already paying that tax, it makes sense to keep it going because once the Cudjoe Regional is funded, that money, more than half of which is paid by tourists, can then be used to upgrade the crappy roads we’ve been driving on, shore up our failing bridges, provide better maintenance for our parks and boat ramps, and keep our publicly owned facilities from falling to the ground.

And while we expect every elected county commissioner to be beating the campaign trail until November to convince us that the tax is necessary, we are also looking to the appointed board of the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority to be right there beside them, talking up the virtue of the tax extension and answering questions about what the future brings.

And in this we can only ask because the FKAA board is appointed, not elected. But we do have some leverage to get their attention away from turning a profit at our expense to aiding us in this massive bill.

The county commission has placed a non-binding referendum on the November ballot alongside the tax extension asking if the FKAA board should remain appointed or revert to an elected one.

The last time the board was elected, the results weren’t so great. But we’re not so sure we’re getting any better results from what we have now. For instance, the only geographic area of the Keys without a representative on the FKAA board who lives in the area affected by the service area for the Cudjoe Regional is the Cudjoe Regional.

There isn’t a member of the FKAA board that lives in the area to be serviced by the Cudjoe Regional. They all live in areas where sewers have been completed, or are well on the way.

We have to keep a watchful on eye on what transpires.

And if we don’t get the representation we expect, including beating the campaign trail for the passage of the sales tax extension, we need to send a strong message in November that we want the board to be elected so we can rectify those types of issues if we must.

That’s not to say we’re getting bad representation, but the FKAA board has a very strong Key West leaning right now, a city where sewers have been in place for more than a decade. There’s no dog in the current fight for them.

If the Lower Keys approves the elected measure in November, we’d be sending a message that we’re watching.

Of course, the change in the board would have to be initiated by the state Legislature, and we don’t see our current Governor giving away an iota of power over anything until we either vote him out or he leaves on his own.

But we can send a message. And we must.

We must strongly support the sales tax extension because to do otherwise will impact many wallets so heavily that folks will be forced to pack up and leave. And we must strongly support the move to elect the FKAA board if nothing else than to make sure our appointed representatives understand that they aren’t operating in a vacuum.

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