With election season getting into full swing, Monroe County officials are hoping voters will back their plan to extend a one-penny sales tax with proceeds dedicated to wastewater and stormwater projects.
The County Commission is giving residents a chance to comment on the referendum and will hold its second of three public hearings on the matter in Marathon on June 20. The county is holding one hearing in each of the three areas of the county. The final meeting will be held next month in Key West.
A one-penny sales tax is set to expire in 2018. The county wants to extend it to 2033, which could bring in an additional $50 million to $60 million for wastewater projects for the county and all Keys municipalities.
The countywide sales tax would generate about $13 million annually for the county, $5 million for the city of Key West and about $2 million each for Marathon and Islamorada, County Administrator Roman Gastesi said. To make the extension more appealing to Keys cities, Gastesi has proposed that the capital improvements money not be limited to just wastewater projects.
The referendum states that once wastewater mandates are met, the money can be used for the purchase or creation of "recreation and conservation lands, marinas, courthouses parking, offices, roads, bridges, airports, jails, libraries, piers, auditoriums, riprap/seawalls, solid waste, jails, police/fire facilities, land acquisition, stormwater and any public purpose authorized by law."
But the main use still remains wastewater. The Keys are woefully behind on a state legislative mandate that calls for all Keys properties to be connected to advanced wastewater treatment systems by Dec. 31, 2015. The Keys still need about $400 million to comply with the mandate.
The State Legislature approved and the governor signed a bill that will bring $50 million in wastewater funding to the Keys. The $50 million is part of $200 million that was promised to the Keys in 2007 but was never allocated. It is unknown when or if the Keys will see the remainder of the funding.
The funding will allow the county to start construction of Cudjoe Regional Wastewater Treatment System and Islamorada to start work on its sewer upgrades.
The county needs its $30 million portion of the $50 million to start construction of the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater Treatment System. The county has $20 million in reserves earmarked for the Cudjoe project, which will cost about $150 million to complete. The county plans to use sales tax revenue and bonded money to pay the remaining costs.
The County Commission will hold a public hearing on the referendum at 3 p.m. June 20 at the Marathon Government Center.