Miami Beach task force takes on use of countywide tax revenues
By Sherri C. Ranta
A Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce task force is scrutinizing the city's share of existing county gasoline-tax revenues and potential uses for a countywide transportation tax that could be decided by voters in a November referendum.
The "Our Fair Share" Task Force will examine Miami Beach's current transportation funding, said chamber Chairman Michael Milberg, and the city's potential share of any countywide transportation tax or general obligation bonds approved in the future by voters.
"We're trying to get out in front of this issue, instead of chasing the issue," said Mr. Milberg, who directed creation of the new task force. The group will meet four more weeks before presenting a report and recommendations to the chamber's board of governors, which will ultimately be presented to the finance committee of the city commission.
Mr. Milberg said it was too early to say what recommendations the chamber would back, but he did say the report would create a base for negotiations.
In an April 7 memo to task force members, he said the group "should highlight the differences between our city and other municipalities, and the disproportionate ratio of tax revenue proposed for the county versus returning Miami Beach's share."
"The task force," he said, "must set the stage for the city's elected officials to determine our fair share, while exposing the imbalance."
Collins Avenue between Fifth and 15th streets, he said, generates about $112 million in sales tax. "With this type of capacity, what are we going to get back?"
Miami Beach officials say a number of transportation projects in the city are under-funded because of cuts in the Miami-Dade County gasoline tax in the late 1990s.
"The cut devastated the city's ability to do roadwork projects - not just in this city but in all municipalities in the county," Mr. Milberg said.
As chamber officials consider new countywide transportation taxes, the group will also address what it says are inequities in the way the current gas tax is distributed. The task force meets at 8 a.m. each Tuesday in the chamber's conference room.
"What we're saying - not officially yet - is, 'How do we make sure that the tax becomes our safety net?' Mr. Milberg said. "If voters turn down the sales tax for transportation, or turn down the general obligation bond - we end up knowing that we're still getting funding to improve our roads."
City Transportation Director Joseph Johnson said the county allocates the gas tax based on the number of gallons pumped in a specific area. Miami Beach, he said, gets less than other areas where more gas stations are located. The Beach's highest and best use of land, he said, does not call for gas stations.
Another problem, he said, is that county legislation often finances transportation projects known as "capacity enhancers" - such as widening roads - that typically aren't viable on the Beach because of its urban development.
The city could benefit more by projects such as corridor enhancements and community-sustainability projects, he said.
"Because we're a built-out community, it's difficult to do our capacity-driven projects," Mr. Johnson said.
If the city can be assured it can receive a fair share of any new transportation tax, Mr. Milberg said, the chamber would support the proposal and would work to persuade the city's 35,000 voters to do the same.
"That's all we're seeking is our fair share in return - in projects that mean something to the entire community. They're talking about funding Baylink and buses - it hasn't even been accepted by our community. The way people look at 50 more buses - it's 50 more buses that are clogging our streets," he said.
The Baylink study, financed by the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization, will look at a rail system to connect Miami and Miami Beach. A rapid bus system is also being considered. A recommendation from the Baylink study is expected this summer.
Details: (305) 674-1300.