Miami-Dade County considers $1 billion bond issue
By Shannon Pettypiece
and Susan Stabley
Miami-Dade County officials say thousands of new jobs and dozens of capital-improvement projects could boost the fiscally strained county under a proposed $1 billion bond issue.
County Manager George Burgess plans to ask commissioners in November to put the bond issue on the March 9 or Aug. 31 ballot, Assistant County Manager Corinne Brody said.
The bond could fund roads, water and sewer systems, cultural facilities, the seaport and current projects such as the Performing Arts Center.
"Any capital project can be funded with the general-obligation bond - but no operating costs," Ms. Brody said Tuesday.
Several officials said the bond money should not go toward a baseball stadium.
"No, no Marlins stadium, not if it's up to me," said County Commissioner Jimmy Morales. "We have a lot of other infrastructure needs."
The measure must be effective by the Oct. 1, the beginning of the fiscal year, to create a seamless taxation transition from the current bond issue, which expires next year, Commissioner Morales said.
"If we issue as the old one is coming off, the effect on the taxpayers will be identical," Commissioner Morales said. "It would be what voters are paying now."
The current Decade of Progress Bond passed in the 1970s.
Former county managers Steve Shiver and Merrett Stierheim unsuccessfully tried to get new bonds considered during their terms. Commissioners said they did not place the issue on the most-recent county ballot, in November, because it didn't want to compete with a half-cent sales-tax increase for transportation improvements.
Miami City Commission Chairman Johnny Winton said a new county bond would "solve a lot of problems for everybody if they can get it sold."
The 1972 measure, for $560 million - a total of $2 billion after state and federal matching funds - was called the Decade of Progress bond.
The bond contributed $77.4 million to Jackson Memorial Hospital, $132.5 million to mass-transit construction and bus improvements and additional funds to create Miami Metrozoo and Tropical Park, a recreation facility at 7900 SW 40th St.
While past county managers have tried to get a new bond on the ballot, the issue had dropped off the radar screen for the past two years. Now, officials are taking a fresh look at the idea, as the previous bond will be paid off in a year and a new $1.2 billion or $1.3 billion bond could take its place without a raise in taxes.
"We are taking advantage of a debt-service millage that is retiring so it wouldn't require a tax increase," said Assistant County Manager Corinne Brody. "We want to have this identified by the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30 of next year."
If the county decides to put the bond on the ballot, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners would need to approve a plan for determining what capital-improvement projects would be included.
The county should know by November how it will assess its needs and decide what projects would get funded and what percentage of the bond money would go to specific areas such as culture or transportation, Ms. Brody said.
County departments are determining what projects they will propose to get funds.
"Once the county gets going, our department will be asked to do an assessment of what the cultural facilities' needs are," said Michael Spring, director of the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs. "The departments will pool their wish lists, and projects will be prioritized."
Mr. Spring said his department plans to pitch museum improvements and the Museum Park Miami plan for Bicentennial Park.
There may be intense campaigning from many parties vying for a piece of the funds in the next months, and observers say not every groups' expectations will be fulfilled.
"There will be a lot of weighing in on what projects will be included and what ones won't, and that will become a little political," said Ric Katz, who is working with a Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce subcommittee to oversee the bond proposal. "The topic is out there, and the commissioners are also thinking a lot about what would be included."
Many said a new bond would bring jobs and development to the county at a time when unemployment is high and many projects are looking for funding.
"Capital projects that expand the economy will enable the business community to do better. That translates into jobs and projects that enable the economic base to grow," Mr. Katz said. "It would be a healthy mix of projects that boost the economy."