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At last minute, Key Biscayne raises storm water fees for big flooding projects

Waiting until the very last day it could legally act, the Key Biscayne Village Council voted Friday to raise storm water fees 15% for property owners.

The increase will generate an extra $300,000 a year as the Village gets ready to start work on re-plumbing the island, a project that will eventually cost hundreds of millions of dollars. 

“This Council isn’t kicking the can down the road,” said Mayor Joe Rasco. “We’re taking care of a dilapidated system that needs an overhaul. And secondly, we’re planning for the future have a better stormwater system that will give us less flooding.” 

The 5-2 vote in a rare morning session was needed to meet a state deadline for implementing the fees, which are tied to low-interest Florida borrowing programs.

Chief Financial Officer Benjamin Nussbaum said the State Revolving Fund, or SRF, will let Key Biscayne pay back loans at half the going commercial interest rate. A loan for $870,000 was approved in January by state officials for the area around the K-8 school. The rate for the loan was 2.29%, he said.

Critics, however, said the fee increase was not needed – or premature. 

“Let’s really have an accounting of what resiliency is going to cost us,” said Fausto Gomez, a former mayoral candidate.

But Nussbaum said the time was now if Key Biscayne wanted to obtain favorable loan terms, adding state officials needed to see long-term projections for projects, even if details were not final. 

“If we really want to get the golden goose, which is the SRF loan, this is the requirement to get it,” Nussbaum said. 

Council Members Ed London and Brett Moss voted no. 

Benjamin Nussbaum, Key Biscayne’s chief financial officer, makees a point about low interest rates in a discussion about storm water fees before the Village Council, Friday Sept. 15, 2023. The Council voted 5-2 to raise fees 15% to fund flood projects near the K-8 school (KBI Photo/Tony Winton)

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Moss said he objected to the new rate formula that tries to match a property’s storm runoff to the fee. Council Member Fernando Vazquez agreed, saying the computational model used to update the fee structure was flawed but voted yes anyway. 

Rasco and other members said they would revisit the fee methodology at a future date, but accepted Manager Steve Williamson’s recommendation to approve the fee hike. 

Estimates of new storm water fees. Source: Village of Key Biscayne


Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.

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