County tightens requirements for municipal incorporations
By Suzy Valentine
The Miami-Dade County Commission has made it more than twice as difficult to create cities.
Petitions applying for city incorporation must be signed by 25% of the proposed municipality's voters, the commission decided last week, up from the present 10%.
The action drew criticism from at least one commissioner.
"This is an increase of 150%," said Commissioner Carlos Gimenez. "The idea was to make it difficult, not impossible."
The change, adopted 10-2, requires that petitions be delivered to the county clerk within a prescribed 90-day period.
The county's 1957 charter created a metropolitan government that was intended to support a network of municipalities throughout the county, with the county government providing regional services and the cities serving more local needs. But many areas have yet to incorporate, with county commissioners increasingly seeking to slow or thwart incorporations. Unincorporated areas are governed by county hall.
Broward County, in contrast, has passed a law requiring that all of its area be part of municipalities by the end of this decade.
Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler argued last week that allowing a minority of residents to expose others to increased tax liability was itself onerous.
"Here we're creating a new tax," said Ms. Carey-Shuler, "and half of the residents don't even know that they have a new city. I know that was a big issue in Miami Gardens."
There had also been a push to require a larger proportion of the electorate to endorse incorporation, she said.
"There was talk of a requirement of 51% for this issue," Ms. Carey-Shuler said. "I've been a supporter of this so that more people become aware that there is going to be a new city and there's going to be a new taxation."
Commissioner Barbara Jordan said the change was overdue.
"I remember my predecessor, Betty Ferguson, saying any time there was anything coming forward regarding incorporation, 'We need to be consistent, we need to get some procedures in place and make sure we have some policies in place.' I wish this item had been brought forward during that time because it sets the tone for what we could have prevented in some instances."
She cited Miami Gardens, with a population of more than 100,000, of whom 51,500 were registered voters at the time of incorporation. Ballots were cast by 8,000 residents, or 16% of the electorate.
"It's no secret the community felt ill-informed and I became a citizen after 5 o'clock. Those individuals casting the ballots," said Ms. Jordan, "were the ones who were interested in the process. It doesn't mean they were the only ones informed, but other segments knew nothing about what was going on. Even if a smaller number turns up to vote, there is an obligation to at least inform the community."
She said there had been incidences of campaigners for incorporation keeping residents in the dark.
"It is not to the advantage sometimes of the people who have the desire to do it," said Ms. Jordan, "to inform the community of what the ramifications would be because it would hinder their opportunity to run for office."
Accelerated incorporation could also derail plans to improve the county's transportation infrastructure, some argued.
"Issues that we're not addressing are those of countywide importance," said Commissioner Katy Sorenson. "We see the transit corridors are so important to us. If they all become incorporated and the municipalities retain control of all the zoning, we're going to have a very difficult time. That's a problem we're going to have to address sooner rather than later."