County's 3-month-old transit tax already heading off course, officials say
By Frank Norton
Only three months old, Miami-Dade County's $17 billion transit tax plan is at least six months off schedule, county officials say.
The plan's watchdog board - required to be in place to spend the new sales tax for transportation - was intended to be named in January but now is not expected to be formed until at least June 3, project officials say.
The protracted process could delay county plans this summer to phase in improvements such as 500 new minibuses and preliminary design work on the North Corridor Metrorail extension, said Danny Alvarez, director of the Office of Transportation Management.
"We can't award any contracts without a trust being in place to review it," Mr. Alvarez said.
Approved by voters in November, the county began levying the half-cent sales surtax in January but monthly returns - expected to begin flowing in by April - will not usable until the trust is established.
"The sooner we have it in place the sooner we can get to work... but if it's still not formed by June or July we'll see some real delays," Mr. Alvarez said.
County transit officials blame the delay on a complex nominating process for creating the board that was part of the referendum. The first layer of that process required 20 county-selected civic groups to name a temporary nominating committee. That first step alone has taken three months.
With a meeting now behind them, members of that temporary nominating committee say they need another four months to select the 15 permanent auditors to serve on the watchdog board, called the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust.
"This is not something to rush into because somebody says we should do it faster," said Terry Cuson, who heads the nominating committee's process review team.
"I'm one of the leading proponents of 'let's not rush.' We have a responsibility to the public to lead a thoughtful, fair and thorough process that is both open and transparent to the public. If we rush we stand to lose some of those elements," he said.
Although some county officials, including Mayor Alex Penelas, agree that prudent selections may require extra time, others say the new June 3 target for naming the trust is too late.
"The Peoples plan will be on hold as of April because we can't spend the money we've collected," said Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, who helped write the legislation.
The nominating committee set an April 7 deadline for candidates to apply for a seat on the 15-member Trust, and is scheduled to hold its next meeting April 11.
"That seems really out there," Commissioner Katy Sorenson said. "I hope the nominating committee will reconsider and tighten up their time frame."