Florida is running out of water–Polk County’s Take on it

Polk Water Future’s One Certainty: It Will Cost More To Feed The Growth Machine
Posted on January 24, 2017

There are still some missing pieces in Polk’s water plan, based on what I heard Tuesday night at the latest local water summit put on by the Polk County Water Cooperative.

The cooperative is a paradox.

It is an innovative confederation of local officials uniting in Polk County for the first time to find a way to deal with water problems by embracing a plan that promotes doing things the way they’ve always done it, regardless of the cost.

The problem they confront is that public water utility departments have tapped out their traditional, relatively cheap sources and will have to find a way to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to find additional water somewhere to maintain current growth patterns.

The current projections only guarantee water for the next generation.

After that, who knows?

The missing pieces are where the money will come from to finance these plans, which lean heavily on what amounts to a network of inland desalination plants to tap poor quality water in a section of the aquifer beneath the fresh water section that has been the traditional source up until now.

Local officials and their consultants have come up with some credible proposed sources that include getting money from the water management district, getting money from the Florida Legislature, issuing ponds, asking the voters to increase the local sales tax and raising utility rates.

The nagging concern for all of us who are municipal utility customers is that there could come a day when our water bills are as high as our sewer bills. What the future rates will be is a big question mark because the plan isn’t far enough along to provide good numbers, but you can’t say you weren’t warned.

There are alternatives, such as capping water permits, but while that’s technically defensible, the politics are against it for now.

Nothing is going to happen immediately.

Polk legislators may make a run at a bill this year that would authorize money for water projects and give Polk the right to use voter-approved sales tax money for water projects. The rationale for the legislation is that Polk is a special place at the headwaters for several rivers and home of the Green Swamp and deserving of state help.

As I wrote in an earlier post, some of the bill’s introductory language needs some fact-checking and wordsmithing, but if it promotes more growth in Florida, that may not matter, for now.

This entry was originally posted in Group Conservation Issues by Tom Palmer.

Minto West: Sprawling Into The Everglades Spirals Taxpayer Deficits

Minto West Development, the latest battle in the ongoing “Browardization” of Palm Beach County proposes to plunk down intense residential/commercial onto a 3,800 acre orange grove. 

The folks who already live out there ride horses down unpaved streets.  The Palm Beach County land use plan currently allows about 3,000 homes to be constructed; however, Minto West, like most Florida developers, wants more density.

The developer initially asked for an upzoning to 6,500 units and 1.4 million square feet of commercial space—more than double the current allowed density.  A hue and cry arose from residents who don’t want their rural ambiance to be swallowed in a sea of urbanization.  In the face of community anger Minto West has revised its proposal to a new density of 4,549 houses and 2.1 million square feet of commercial.

Revised Minto West Map

Unlike many Florida counties, Palm Beach County has impact fees paid by the developer to offset the costs of new development.  They average about $10,400 per new single family residence.  Most of the impact fee is for roads–$7,280.56 per single family house.  If Minto builds only single family houses, the impact fees will be $47,309,600.  These fees will almost offset the one-time road cost, but impact fees don’t cover ongoing sprawl charges.  Impact fees are often negotiated downward by the developer; so it’s important to ask what they actually are for Minto West.

This is a good opportunity to apply the sprawl calculator.   Let’s run the numbers:

Added Sprawl costs for the new development (residential only):

Annual Costs

Type of Cost

At Build-out for 4549 houses

Per house

How POS.com computed & comments




[# houses X .7 children per house* X $10,754 per student]




[# houses X  $271 per house for fire service]




[# houses X $365 per house for police]

Est’d property tax paid



At the County average of $275,000 per house.  Est’d property taxes shown for illustrative purposes only.  Their taxes do not all apply against costs of services.

Subtotal Annual Cost Deficit



Paid by all taxpayers in the county outside the neighborhood.

One time cost





Road costs [# houses X  $9,316 per house] are one time only, not including maintenance

Impact fee



Stated Palm Beach Road Impact Fee, often negotiated down, ask what is the actual amount

One Time Road Cost Deficit



* Florida statewide average; 2010 census

How do impact fees fit in? The school, fire and police impact fee is a partial offset for one year—the initial year after construction, and is paid incrementally, as each contingent of houses is built.

Impact Fee

At Build-out for 4549 houses

Per House


Schools, Fire, Police



Stated Palm Beach School, Fire, Police Impact Fee, often negotiated down, ask for the actual amount.

If Minto West is approved to build 4,549 houses, the Price of Sprawl Calculator computes that the road cost to Palm Beach County is $9.25 million (not including maintenance) net after estimated impact fees to the county taxpayers.    At build-out Minto West’s annual sprawl charge to taxpayers for schools, police and fire will be $25.0 million.

Please note we are excluding costs for many of those amenities we associate with the traditional American middle class community such as parks, libraries, and athletic fields.  Also not included are costs of water, sewer, and waste management—all services provided at taxpayer expense.

The median property tax on a house in Palm Beach County is $2,679.00 based on the average home value of $275,000.  Unless each house sells for about $800,000, a significant sprawl deficit will accumulate very quickly and grow year after year.  This charge will be the taxpayers’ burden.

Crunch the numbers, ask the questions and focus the discussion on the costs to YOU the taxpayer.  Why should taxpayers pay for sprawl they don’t want?

What will a city the size of Deltona in the middle of nowhere cost taxpayers?

Farmton is a planned mega-development in Volusia and Brevard counties with 23,000 houses and 4.7 million square feet of commercial space.  At build-out, it will be the size of Deltona.  It is planned for a pristine rural area–  home to endangered plant species and wildlife –black bear, fox, and possibly the Florida Panther—species who need room to roam, to feed and raise their young.  The Farmton Development will be built in and around the biggest mitigation bank in the US, the Farmton Mitigation Bank.

You can do the math.

Use PriceofSprawl.com numbers to provide a well rounded picture of what this means to you, the taxpayer.

  • Vacancy rates in Volusia and Brevard Counties are 7 to 13% without consideration of the additional overdevelopment already approved and unbuilt, and Farmton would add to that.
  • Property value decline in the last five years in the area is 46-48% as of 2nd quarter 2012.  Additional building would further decline property values in a high vacancy/oversupplied market, and likewise declining property values lower tax collections that can be used for infrastructure and services to all residents.
  • Infrastructure costs for residential building that requires roads, schools, safety services, etc which, are only partially paid for by the builder, with the rest subsidized by existing taxpayers.
  • Schools for children of Farmton residents will cost more than $115 million for school construction alone; $74.6 million annually ($9794/student/yr*7623 students) for operating and construction costs per year.  Typically a builder will contribute the land for the school, but school construction and equipment (land and equipment is not included in the $115 million) is at taxpayer expense.  The new residents will pay for operating costs of schools, but all taxpayers in the county pay for school construction.
  • Roads cost $9312 per dwelling unit for roads in and near the urban service area.  For Farmton, it computes to $214 million ($9,312*23,000 dwelling units), a low estimate due to the fact that Farmton, a totally sprawl development, will need all road infrastructure, not just an incremental add-on like in other places.  Recognizing that your tax dollars will subsidize these roads, does your neighborhood need road improvements? Do you want your tax dollars to go to Farmton’s roads?
  • Population size:  The impact of this mega development will be big, and it is not needed.  For example, Deltona and Port Orange have already each approved enough development for 50% more people than they currently have.  Unincorporated Volusia County has approved development for 79% more people.  These housing units will need roads, schools and safety services etc. in addition to the Farmton development population.
  • Water supply in the area is already running low as the water supply map indicates; and the water use from Farmton development from 23,000 homes and 4.7 million square feet of commercial space will further deplete the water supply.
  • Quality of life in your neighborhoods will decline as your tax dollars are used in new neighborhoods when your own neighborhood may need roads, schools, safety services.

These estimates are low because sprawl development is much more expensive than in town development because no infrastructure is in sprawl areas.

You already know that sprawl development is detrimental to your community, but now you can figure out the real price to taxpayers to share with your neighbors, community groups and elected officials.