MONEY IN, MONEY OUT: After repeated indications that Miami residents would enjoy the same property tax rollback as other taxpayers statewide, city administrators and Mayor Manny Diaz at a hearing this week presented a budget anticipating a $5.64 million increase in property tax revenues while continuing to tout "significant budget cuts." The budget plan, however, proposes only a $31 million reduction, not the $53 million that would come with the 9% required by most Florida cities as a result of statewide property tax reform measures. The $523 million budget, the mayor and City Manager Pete Hernandez say, has been cut equal to the 9%. But administrators have already put some of what they tout as cuts back into the budget to spend in other areas, including parks and police, resulting in only a $31 million reduction.
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TALLAHASSEE TALKS: State legislators continue to push Miami to self-impose steeper rollbacks. Most Florida cities were required to reduce their budgets by 9% in an effort to ease residents' property tax burdens. In what legislators have deemed a mistake, Miami appeared on a list of cities exempt from the steep cuts due to the financial crisis it faced until 2001. Florida House of Representatives Speaker Marco Rubio "has encouraged the city of Miami to voluntarily reduce taxes and spending because the city's citizens are over-burdened with property taxes," said spokesperson Jill Chamberlin in an e-mail. "He is disappointed in every local government that has failed to pass on savings to property taxpayers, instead choosing as a local government to benefit unfairly from the big bump in Florida property values over the past several years."
CUTTING MORE FAT: Some Miami commissioners have called for further reductions in departments to increase payback to residents. "We should abolish the economic development office," said Tomás Regalado, "because we have very, very good agencies throughout the city" that serve similar purposes, including the Downtown Development Authority and the Community Redevelopment Agencies. Axing the department would save $1.5 million, Mr. Regalado said. Marc Sarnoff pointed out increases in several departments' budgets, including communications, building, public facilities and zoning, among others. "You can reduce it (the budget) 9% and not give the citizens back that reduction, or we can reduce it the 9% and really see if we can give back some significant monies," he said. Commissioners are to consider the budget for final approval Sept. 27.
JACKSON SOUTH EXPANSION: Miami-Dade commissioners on Tuesday are expected to vote on approving the "erection, construction and operation" phase of Jackson South Community Hospital's expansion and renovation. The 199-bed former Deering Hospital has been operating at full capacity in the wake of the South Dade population boom, and 5.7 acres were purchased in 2005 in anticipation of the project, where a four-story building and additional parking are to be built. The plan adds 180,000 square feet of new construction and 72,000 square feet of renovated space to improve service.
NEW AND BETTER SERVICES: Construction on the $102 million project is expected to begin next year, with a 2011 completion. Plans call for a multi-phase project including expanded emergency and operating rooms, new critical care and inpatient beds, upgraded maternity services and construction of an ambulatory surgery center. The project is included in the Building Better Communities General Obligation bond program, which is contributing $65 million. Public Health Trust Series 2005 Revenue bonds are to provide the balance.
ENTERPRISING ATTORNEY: Vivian de las Cuevas-Diaz, a partner with Broad and Cassel law firm in Miami, has been added to the board of directors of Enterprise Florida, a public-private organization that promotes statewide economic development. The organization now has 65 directors, and Gov. Charlie Crist is its chairman. Ms. de las Cuevas-Diaz' term ends July 1, 2011. She is a graduate of Florida State University and received her law degree from Tulane.
BUSINESS EMPOWERMENT: The Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce will hold its third Business Empowerment Networking Series event from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday at Jungle Island. Technology: The Game, a luncheon sponsored by IBM, will feature keynote speaker Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans. Microsoft recently gave a $5 million software grant to the league to help encourage minority students to enter technology career paths, and Mr. Morial will talk about the National Urban League's technology initiatives. IBM's Market Development Executive Denise Evans will also present a lesson at the event.
BUSINESS OWNER'S TOOLKIT: Ms. Evans' presentation will "tell you how you can use technology to help your small business," she said. Topics will include e-mail privacy and security, disaster recovery, how to back up important information and how to organize information. She also plans to talk about a helpful online tool for small businesses, a Web site create by IBM and the World Bank's International Finance Corporation. "This amazing site is in 29 countries and in 14 languages," she said. "It has business planning tools, information on e-commerce and how-to articles." Technology: The Game costs $25 for chamber members, $35 for others. Details: (305) 751-8648.
TUNNEL TALK: Commissioner Joe Sanchez voted no last month as a community redevelopment agency board member on a resolution denying agency funds to Miami-Dade County's port tunnel project without a guarantee the $50 million could be recouped — a virtual impossibility, city and state officials have said. He now says his vote did not indicate support for funding the project, but exactly the opposite. "I'm against the tunnel, period," he said, saying he opposed the resolution because of the recoup clause, not because he was against denying the funds. Commissioner Sarnoff , the resolution's only other opponent, says the tunnel could relieve area blight and voted against the resolution to leave doors open for funding options.
OH, CANADA: The local Beacon Council, The Business Development Board of Palm Beach County and The Broward Alliance are to lead a tri-county economic-development mission to Toronto and Montreal, Canada, Sept. 23-28. The trip is meant to target industries such as aviation, financial and professional services, information technology and life sciences, according to Canadian Consul General Marcy Grossman. "Canada and Florida share a lengthy and vibrant bilateral economic relationship, fueled by trade and investment linkages proudly shared by both," she said in an e-mail. "We hope that this tri-county mission will continue to broaden that relationship and provide visibility to one of Florida's best kept secrets."
FILM FLAP: As Miami-Dade County gears up to slice its film office budget and recover funds lost through a $100 film permit application fee, Miami Beach officials are resisting. They last week passed a resolution urging the county to resolve the budget shortfall without charging fees. This puts a rift in the long-standing partnership between the Beach, the City of Miami and the county. Graham Winick, Miami Beach's film and event production manager, said last week that while leaving the FilMiami partnership — which allows one-stop shopping for those seeking permits within the three areas — would be the "worst-case scenario," if the county approves the $100 application fee, Miami Beach will either have to accept it or leave the partnership and issue permits itself, free of charge.
CORRECTION: A previously published article headlined "Several mergers of area community banks pending" was mistakenly republished in the Aug. 30 issue.
CONSOLIDATED ELECTIONS: The Miami-Dade County Commission is asking County Manager George Burgess to study the consolidation of municipal elections onto a single date, or on the same day as countywide elections. Rebeca Sosa, who is sponsoring the ordinance, said same-day elections would create economies of scale and be "a more efficient use of public resources" that would "increase voter participation." The Government Operations and Environment Committee heard the plan at its Tuesday meeting.
MORE TIME, PLEASE: The Miami-Dade Charter Review Task Force, which from the outset has chafed at its tight Oct. 31 deadline to complete its work revising the county's constitution, is asking Miami-Dade commissioners for an extension to Jan. 29. In exchange, the task force has promised to submit an "initial report" Oct. 31 and its final one in January. The county commission's Government Operations and Environment Committee approved the request Tuesday, sending it to the full commission for action. The charter task force is debating issues including addition of at-large county commission districts and direct election of now-appointed offices such as the supervisor of elections and the property appraiser. Its recommendations ultimately will go before voters if county commissioners approve.
BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED ASPHALT: Miami-Dade Transit has scheduled a presentation session on plans to build a pedestrian bridge over US 1 at the University Metrorail Station. The overpass is designed to improve safety by eliminating the need for Metrorail passengers to cross US 1 at street level to reach the station. The meeting is 4-7:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Holiday Inn University of Miami, 1350 S. Dixie Hwy in Coral Gables. Free hotel parking is available.
OPINIONS, CRITICISM SOUGHT: Area residents, business owners and city officials are invited to the session to view architectural plans for the pedestrian overpass and comment. The overpass will feature elevators, stairs, landscaping and architectural elements that create a community gateway. The People's Transportation Plan half-penny sales tax is funding the project. Details: Jean Kouch, (786) 469-5550 or email@example.com.
CRANE SAFETY: Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey Edmonson's resolution on construction crane safety has interesting trivia on Miami-Dade's fading construction boom, including that more than 100 major projects are under way in the county using heavy hoisting equipment such as tower cranes and that there exists a "Miami-Dade County Crane and Heavy Equipment Advisory Committee." Citing hazards that use of the equipment pose to workers and the public, she is asking the commission to urge the state to adopt the same level of crane safety standards that the county and committee are proposing.
CANCER BENEFIT: University of Miami President Donna Shalala is to speak at Health Choice Network's seventh annual Jessie Trice Cancer Prevention Benefit gala Oct. 3. The event includes a reception, dinner, entertainment and an award ceremony that will honor former US Rep. Carrie Meek and her son, Rep. Kendrick Meek. The 6 p.m. gala is at Sofitel Miami hotel, 5800 Blue Lagoon Drive, Miami. $75-$750. Details: (305) 599-1015, Ext. 8080 or www.hcnetwork.org.