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I. USER Fees and Charges

User fees and charges are collected for the provision of the services that provide a specific benefit to a user. Various types of user fees and charges are described below.

Wastewater Rates and Charges

For most utilities, their primary source of revenue is the rate charged to customers. Publicly owned utilities are typically operated as “Enterprise Funds” within the local government’s organization. Enterprise funds are intended to be managed like a business, and are typically expected to be self-supporting, although many utilities do receive additional funds from the city or county’s general fund. In addition to paying for on going operation and maintenance (O&M) costs, portion of a utility’s rate-generated revenues is used to directly fund minor capital programs, as well as to repay the debt service on any outstanding bonds or loans. Rate revenues may be dedicated to a capital reserve account and used to fund annual capital improvements, or may be accumulated until sufficient to fund larger projects. This is the most common method used for funding equipment renewal and replacement requirements. Wastewater may include a minimum or fixed charge that does not vary from billing period to billing period (most frequently month to month), and/or a volume charge that may be based on the user’s water consumption or metered wastewater flows.

Miscellaneous Fees and Charges

Most utilities also charge customers miscellaneous fees for services that the utility may provide, or to provide incentives, such as for prompt payment of bills. These fees are typically designed to recover the utility’s costs incurred to provide these specific services, or to recover the costs the utility incurs because of the customers’ actions (service line clean outs, lost interest income, etc.).

Connection Fees

Hook-up, tap, or connection fees are charges collected for the new connections to a community wastewater system. In many communities, connection fees are designed to recover just the cost the utility incurs to install the service connection to the sewer main.

Impact Fees

Impact fees, like connection fees, are collected at the time a user connects to the wastewater system. Impact fees are intended to recover the costs the utility incurs to oversize its transmission, treatment, and disposal facilities to provide capacity to serve new users. The intent of these charges is to avoid charging existing customers for the costs the utility is incurring to serve future customers.

Line Extension Fees

Some utility companies charge a fee for extending collection and or transmission lines to serve a new customer’s property. This charge, which is generally based on the number of feet that the collection or transmission line must be extended to serve the property, may be collected in addition to the connection and impact fees.

Service Availability Fees

Community water and wastewater utilities frequently require development properties to connect to the system once service is available (i.e., when a collection line has been constructed along their property). In some communities, where the local government has opted not to require a connection to the system, service availability fees have been implemented. The service availability fees are typically designed to recover capital costs that the utility has incurred to make service available to user, which the user is choosing not to exercise. These types of fees are currently being challenged in Florida courts.

II. Taxes and Assessments

Taxes are used to fund activities that do not provide a specific benefit, but provide a more general benefit to the community; the user may not be able to avoid paying the tax. Assessments must show a benefit to the property owned by the user. The various forms of a common taxes and assessments are described in the following section.

Local Improvement District Assessments

The extension of lines to serve existing development is frequently accomplished through the creation of a local improvement district (LID). LIDs are created for the specific purpose of financing capital improvements (e.g. roads, water lines, sewer lines, street lighting, and/or storm water improvements) to serve a specific area. Once the LID has been created, special assessments bonds can be issued, which are secured by liens on the properties located within the LID. Debt service on the bonds issued to finance the improvements is recovered through annual assessments on the property located in the LID. For the sewer line improvements, a property owner’s share of cost of the improvements is frequently based on the front footage of the property along which the sewer line is being laid. For improvements involving more than laying the sewer lines, other bases for the assessment are generally collected in the user’s annual property tax bill.

Sales Tax/Local Option Tax

A 1-cent (1-percent) sales tax is used frequently to provide funding for a variety of projects and activities, from schools to highways. Monroe County currently receives revenues from a local option sales tax to fund grants for its cesspool replacement program. Residents, tourist, and businesses all pay a sales tax on purchases made in the County.

Property Tax

Property taxes are assessments charged to real property owners based on a percentage (millage rate) of the assessed property value. These taxes generally support the majority of a county’s non-enterprise fund activities. However, the revenues from property taxes can also be used for enterprise fund projects, and have been used in many communities to pat debt service on general obligation bonds issued to finance wastewater system improvements. Because communities are limited in the total of millage rate, use of property taxes to fund wastewater management improvements could limit the county’s ability to raise funds for other activities.

Municipal Services Taxing/Benefit Unit

Municipal services Taxing Units (MSTUs) and Municipal service Benefit Units (MSBUs) can be established through annual property taxes or assessments to generate funds for projects. Unlike LIDs, MSTUs and MSBUs can be used to fund both capital and annual O&M costs. Ad valorem taxes are generated from MSTUs; special assessments generate funds in MSBUs. The taxes and assessments are levied on property owners. Unlike the process required for raising the millage rate on property taxes, no referendum is required to levy taxes or assessments in an MSBU or MSTU, unless the revenues are used for leveraging bonds. The taxes associated with MSTUs are subjected to the cap on the total millage rate. Therefore, use of MSTU to generate funds would constrain the future taxing ability of the County.

Bed Tax

The bed tax generates revenues from tourists’ expenditures at hotels, motels, and short-term lodging. Like a sales tax, a bed is usually based on a percentage of expenditures, however, the tax would be limited to expenditures at a hotel or a motel for lodging, and therefore has little or no direct impact on residents. Monroe County currently collects a 4-percent bed tax, out of which 1% goes to the county land development authority, and the other 3% goes to the county’s Tourist Development Council.

Real Estate Transfer Tax

A real estate transfer tax is collected from all sales of real estate in a county. The tax is levied at the time of transfer of real property. These types of taxes may be based on a percentage of assessed value or may be a flat deed registration fee, or both. New property owners would be responsible for paying the real estate transfer tax.

Tax Increment Financing

In areas where publicly financed redevelopment is raising property values, tax increment financing (TIF) can be used to fund new projects. With TIF, the incremental increase in ad valorem tax revenues that are a consequence of rising property values (which in turn results from the planned improvements) is dedicated to repaying the debt that financed the capital projects in that area. This approach to funding projects is applicable only in areas undergoing redevelopment.

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