A recent article in the South Florida SunSentinel newspaper raised an interesting question. What they did was line up all the cities in the county and identify the total fees paid to the City by residents. They took the tax rates, plus water, sewer, storm water, fire, garbage and any other fees. The article raised an interesting question. For example, Hollywood, West Park and Lauderdale Lakes had the highest cost per household – in excess of $3500/year. The other end of the spectrum was Hillsboro Beach, Sea Ranch Lakes and Southwest Ranches, each under $2000/household. Of note is that Southwest Ranches provides no water or sewer service (all wells and septic tanks on large lots), so a direct comparison is not really appropriate. Property taxes were low, but fire fees were really high. Sea Ranch Lakes is a tiny community with no sewer, so again, not really a good comparison. Hillsboro Beach is among the wealthiest communities, but also tiny.
Most communities had total fees between $2100 and 3200/resident. Why the difference? First, the value of property varies widely. West Park and Lauderdale lakes have among the lowest values per household, so their taxes must be higher to provide the same level of service. Hollywood, and Dania Beach (#4 on the list) had higher water, sewer and storm water costs. While both have recent, ongoing infrastructure programs, both have large transfers from the water and sewer fund to the general fund, and in both cases the water and sewer customer base does not match the property tax base. In Dania Beach’s case, the service area is half the City, so those residents are supporting the property tax funded services at a higher rate than their neighbors. Hollywood struggled with major budget issues to used water and sewer funds to balance the budget.
The problem that this article did not address, but should have was that where water, sewer and storm water costs were high, what was driving this? Was in infrastructure investments that others simply have yet to make? That’s ok and the fact that these utilities invested now may be more timing. If the result is due to transfers to the general fund, that is an entirely different, and somewhat disconcerting problem. First since the service areas are not the same. There is a fairness issue. Some residents pay more for the same services. It means the water and sewer system is not really an enterprise, with rates based on service costs. Instead it is being used as a tax source.