County rejects proposal to waive annexation fees
By Suzy Valentine
Two weeks after freezing incorporations because three municipalities failed to pay Miami-Dade County money they pledged when they were allowed to incorporate, the county commission Tuesday defeated a bid to waive compensation when an existing municipality expands.
The Feb. 7 freeze halted efforts in five neighborhoods - Biscayne Gardens, Fisher Island, Goulds, Plant and Redland - to incorporate. It didn't stop an enclave - a community that borders municipalities on 80% of its boundary - from joining a municipality.
This week, commissioners voted 11-2 to reject a proposal to waive mitigation payments when an enclave is annexed, voicing concerns including inconsistency over mitigation.
What sparked the freeze two weeks ago were the actions of Doral, Miami Lakes and Palmetto Bay officials who went to Tallahassee with complaints about being required to pay the county for the right to incorporate. The payments are intended to mitigate county tax losses when wealthier areas exit and add to the tax burden to service poorer areas.
Doral, incorporated three years ago, owes Miami-Dade at least $7 million. The county has suspended further incorporations pending state resolution of the issue.
"We're setting ourselves up for the mitigation issue for incorporations to be challenged," said Ms. Jordan. "The principle is the same whether it is an enclave or a municipality."
Not every community that could join a municipality would add to its wealth, the commission heard Tuesday.
If High Pines, one of 15 enclaves, were to be annexed, it would result in a loss of $1.3 million to the county. However, a neighborhood around the 163rd Street Mall in mid-North Miami was a burden to the county, Commissioner Sally Heyman said.
"For a decade, it was a dying mall," Ms. Heyman said. "It's now being rejuvenated with anchors such as Ross (Dress For Less) and Wal-Mart. It's been a burden for many years, and it's a negative number, so it's not a donor area, it's a recipient area."
The figures the county used to determine whether an area gained donor or recipient status came under fire from Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, the sponsor of the failed ordinance.
He said materials used to show that it cost six times as much to police one enclave as it did another were flawed.
"I'm going to challenge the figures of the administration," Mr. Gimenez said. "There's Biscayne Shores with a taxable value of $506 million, very close to the taxable value of High Pines, $626 million, but the former has a gross cost to the county of $3.3 million whereas High Pines only has $635,000. Is it any wonder that High Pines may want to leave? They are comparable communities, but one is getting six times the amount of services."
Commissioner Javier Souto expressed concern that municipalities would cherry-pick donor areas.
"They want to get the ripe mangoes," said Mr. Souto, paraphrasing a Cuban expression about low-hanging fruit. "They are taking advantage of the Unincorporated Municipal Services Area. No way, Jose."
Miami-Dade's top administrator continued the food analogies.
"We look at these enclaves," said County Manager George Burgess. "In some cases, they're literally holes in doughnuts, and it would be preferred if they were to be picked up by a municipality."