Mosquito board needs fiscal control

By Steve Estes

It appears likely that the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District will get the heave ho from Key West on digs the district rents for $1 per year on College Road in Stock Island.

But instead of looking at innovative ways to save taxpayer dollars and turn a problem into a good solution, the board is arguing about how much money it must set aside to build a new building, on land it must buy.

Huh?

There are empty office/retail buildings in Key West that have had prices slashed in the wake of the years-long North Roosevelt rebuild.

And though we haven’t checked, we’re pretty sure that the current owners of those buildings, if not willing to sell, are probably very amenable to a long-term lease with a governmental agency.

The district says it might take as much as $2.4 million to get into new digs as a Key West headquarters. We’re fairly sure that one of the empty storefronts on North Roosevelt could be had for considerably less.

That would bring a much-needed traffic jolt back to North Roosevelt and settle the permanency question for the district.

But here’s an idea that should be given consideration.

The mosquito control district spent a good deal of money on a new building in Marathon just a few years ago. That financial fiasco was the impetus behind a shake up on the elected board as every candidate lambasted the “Taj Mahal” that rose in the Keys most centrally located city.

How about we look at what offices we can move to Marathon, in a basically new building, and cut down on space requirements for Key West.

The district would move some of its spending power to Marathon, including the employees who might move to follow their job and the last-minute, off-the-shelf buys that happen in every governmental agency.

And after all, the district spent $7.4 million on that building that sits mostly idle in Marathon. This would be a good time to start putting that building to good use.

Before the current elected board was in place, spending at the district was pretty much acknowledged to be out of control. The Marathon construction is a case in point. Another point is that instead of giving tax decreases when property values were sky high, the district kept increasing its revenues, supporting a reserve fund that would have carried the district through an entire year without a single dime in revenue.

And now we want to set aside money to build another headquarters. This makes no sense when we already have one.

If the district needs warehousing for equipment and chemicals, there are several large warehouses available in the Lower Keys that would be much cheaper than the $2.4 million anticipated in this budget cycle.

People want the district to kill bugs.

But we can’t say it matters in the slightest whether that occurs from a state-of-the-art, newly constructed headquarters in Key West, or a state-of-the-art, almost-new building in Marathon.

Many of our local governments have managed to get their finances back under control somewhat after the dizzying days of rocketing home values and nearly unlimited money sources, but the mosquito control district still seems to have an issue with fiscally responsible decisions that don’t dip deeper into the taxpayer’s pocket.

The mosquito control board members, and Director Mike Doyle, need to figure out what it costs to kill bugs, then decide whether capital expenditures on anything other than killing bugs is worth the money at this juncture.

Our elected officials, both at mosquito control and all other taxable entities in the Keys, need to remember that while we are one of the counties in Florida with the lowest per capita tax rates, we are still number one in per capita taxes paid.

Anything our elected officials can do to change that dynamic will go a long way toward making sure there is a resident population to serve in the coming decades.

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