Thursday, November 1, 2012
7 News Investigations: Something Stinks
If you love the Florida Keys you might be seeing some changes and in one way they will not be good. More than a dozen business say they will be forced to close and they are blaming the county. As Patrick Fraser reports, they are telling us Something Stinks.
WSVN -- Parts of the Florida Keys are about to change and not in a good way.
Jay Marzella: "One of the answers I was given was because it's the law."
The Florida Keys, a paradise for tourists. A living for the people who cater to those visitors.
Jay Marzella: "This is going to break the backs of the small mom and pop shops that are here."
Parmers Resort has been in the Keys since the 70's. Big Pine Restaurant has been here 12 years.
John Littriello: "The letter was actually a surprise and a shock."
Dive shops, motels, restaurants and retailers without them, the Keys just wouldn't be the same.
But it all may be about to change.
Jay Marzella: "And now they've come up with the worst, worst possible proposition."
Business owners in the lower Keys recently got letters from the county, telling them they were going to have to pay to hook up to a sewer line and pay big.
Jay Marzella: "It says here that I owe over a quarter of a million dollars to participate in the wastewater program."
The owners of the KOA Campground were told to pay more than $700,000, and they had two months to pay it.
Gary Andelin, KOA Manager: "If I had to pay that I would be out of business."
Big Pine Restaurant has to pay $50,000 also within two months to hook up to the sewer.
John Littriello: "Which to me effectively forces a second mortgage on our business, which we cannot survive."
Patrick Fraser: "The fact that homeowners and business owners have to hook up to a central sewer system is no surprise. 20 years ago the state ordered the county to have a sewage system in place by 2015. Some cities like Key Largo, Key West and Marathon did. But for 20 years, Monroe County to be blunt, did nothing."
Patrick: "Did the county mismanage this project?"
Jay Marzella: "100 percent. 100 percent."
And to his credit, the head of the county sewage system admits for 20 years his predecessors didn't prepare for this day.
Kevin Wilson, Monroe County Public Works: "Had we acted at the very beginning. One way to make this equal for everybody is to take the total cost of the system divide by the total number of people in the system, and charge everybody the same amount. We didn't do that."
Further infuriating business owners certain businesses don't have to pay to hook up to the sewage system.
Gary Andelin, KOA Manager: "Two of the biggest competitors that I have will not have any assessment. so they don't have to increase rates. I have to increase rates."
The county says, it's because those properties or business, whichever word you like, are too far away.
Kevin Wilson: "It's not economically feasible to go out to all the ends of the islands and connect all the properties."
Homeowners are being treated differently as well paying a flat fee of $4,500.
While businesses, who in some cases use the same amount of water, have to pay more than 10 times as much $46,000.
Jay Marzella: "How is that even fair. I should be charged $4,500 times how many rooms I have."
But Monroe County isn't budging.
Jay Marzella: "In the letters they have issued, they say if you don't pay it, if you can't pay it we'll issue a tax lien and you will lose your title."
Marzella compares it to a mob tactic.
Jay Marzella: "My words: Pay this extortion or we will take your business."
Many businesses may disappear and with them jobs for Keys residents.
Jay Marzella: "We need sewers. We got to have them, but not at the expense of shutting down my business. It's the county government taking my livelihood and the livelihoods of at least 15 other families that work here full time."
The sewage lines may be required, but the decision to suddenly demand the money in full leaves them saying something stinks.