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?