Written by Miami Today on April 17, 2008
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FARE GAME: Stung by a federal downgrading of a $1.3 billion plan to extend Metrorail to the north because, in part, the county had raised transit fares only once in 16 years and showed little signs of being able to support an expansion, two county commissioners this week offered competing plans to raise the fares on Metrorail, Metrobus and special transit services 50 cents on Oct. 1. Barbara Jordan’s plan would require automatic added hikes every three years based on the cost of operating county transit. Dorrin Rolle’s proposal seeks input on a plan on which to base fare increases over the next 20 years. Metromover would remain free in both plans, which the commission’s Transit Committee was to hear this week. At stake: $700 million in federal matching funds for the rail extension.
APPRAISING THE APPRAISER: Miami-Dade’s soon-to-be elected property appraiser is to be paid $153,000 a year and oversee employees he or she hires as well as workers the mayor and county commission appoint. The appraiser is to have authority to place ordinances and resolutions relating to the office on county commission agendas. Terms under which the office is to operate were passed on to the full commission by its Governmental Operations and Environmental Committee on Tuesday without a recommendation. The full commission is to take up the issue in late May. Voters created the constitutional post in January, and it is to be filled in the November general election. The ordinance considered Tuesday specifies a $5,000 filing fee for the office.
TWO CANDIDATES FOR NOW: The non-partisan property appraiser race has drawn two candidates so far — state senator and former county commissioner Gwen Margolis and Eli B. Cesar. Mr. Cesar has yet to report any campaign contributions or expenditures. Sen. Margolis’s March 30 campaign filing shows contributions of $263,711 and expenditures of $6,681. Her contributions include a $200,000 loan to herself.
MUSIC MOOLAH: Miami-Dade County’s Recreation and Cultural Affairs committee agreed this week to negotiate granting $27 million in convention development tax funds to the New World Symphony to back its planned expanded campus. The money is to be paid with "legally available" tax dollars, according to the resolution — essentially, those left over after funding prior initiatives. Meaning "we have no idea what the specific annual endowment would be," Commissioner Audrey Edmonson said. That total can be decided in composing the formal grant agreement itself, county legal staff responded.
BANK BRANCH: U.S. Century Bank broke ground this week on its Tamiami branch at Tamiami Trail and Southwest 87th Avenue. The 3,900-square-foot building is to offer three drive-through lanes on a 26,388-square-foot lot. It’s to be completed in December. U.S. Century Bank now has 18 branches.
BIGGER, BETTER NUMBERS: The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts’ financial rebound continues, interim President/CEO Lawrence Wilker reported to the county’s commission’s Recreation and Cultural Affairs Committee Monday. Occupancy costs are down by $1.1 million since Oct. 1, yielding an operating surplus of $1.56 million, Mr. Wilker said. He noted 80% of seats have been filled for Arsht Center Presents performances this year compared to 41% last year. In March, the center sold 53,000 tickets to its events, he said. "It was a record month." The center has also initiated an online ticket printer system by which the buyer can purchase online, print the ticket and present it at the ticket window.
FEWER DOLLARS NEEDED: The Arsht Center is asking for a $7.5 million subsidy from the county in the new budget year, down $1.3 million from the current year, Mr. Wilker said. Commissioner Audrey Edmonson said the turnaround is a delight to witness. "It just feels good to see these types of phrases in the report," she said, referring to such terms as "surplus" and "below budget."
READY, SET, SPONSORSHIP: Miami park buildings and programs could soon sport corporate monikers. Commissioners last week gave unanimous final approval to an ordinance allowing private sponsorship. The initiative is expected to generate extra dollars for the city during tight financial times. Should a company pay for naming rights to a park building or program, the proceeds would pad the park budget. Said Commissioner Tomás Regalado,"I do think there is a lot of money" to be had.
IMPROVEMENTS ASSISTANCE: Miami commissioners agreed last week to enlist help from two firms to enact the city’s capital improvement plans. "The operative word is support," Department of Capital Improvements Director Ola Aluko said. Post, Buckley, Schuh, & Jernigan and DMJM Harris are to have two-year contracts, then come back to commissioners for renewal, as directed last week by Chairman Joe Sanchez. PBS&J is to get $5 million and DMJM $500,000.
WI-FI IN THE AIR? Miami-Dade County’s Airport and Tourism Committee was expected today (4/17) to consider bringing a wireless Internet system to Miami International Airport. County Manager George Burgess recommended the committee approve awarding the WI-FI system to Miami-based Electronic Media Systems Inc. If approved, the company would get a five-year contract to design, install, operate and maintain the wireless system. The deal could be renewed for two years more. The company would pay the Aviation Department 65% of monthly gross plus 50% of all advertising revenues. Passengers would pay $6.95 for 24 hours of access or $19.95 a month. A contract would ultimately require approval by the 13-member county commission.
REVENUE CAP FAILS: Miami-Dade County opposed it. Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink opposed it, as did most municipalities and other government entities in the state. Monday, the state Taxation and Budget Reform Commission voted not to place a question on the November ballot to cap city and county governments’ spending. The constitutional amendment would also have barred new taxes without voter approval. Duval County Tax Collector Michael Hogan, a commission member, had made the proposal. Miami-Dade Commissioner Katy Sorenson had sponsored a resolution last month that the county commission approved urging the state panel to reject Mr. Hogan’s proposal.
BUSES TEST BIODIESEL: Miami-Dade County is testing biodiesel fuels in its buses to reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warning, the Transit Department said. The department said it plans to begin mixing biodiesel and petroleum diesel this year, beginning with 5% biodiesel and gradually increasing to 20% in 2009, to make sure the blend doesn’t degrade services. With a 20% blend, the county would cut its use of fossil fuels by 2.4 million gallons a year, according to the department. "This is a perfect example of Miami-Dade Transit’s commitment to help reduce global warming," department Director Harpal Kapoor said.
BOWLED OVER: Miami-Dade’s Convention Development Tax revenues dipped 6.8% in February from February 2007, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. But the bureau quickly pointed out that a visitor surge from hosting the NFL’s Super Bowl raised February 2007 collections to $5.9 million. Comparing non-Super Bowl years, February 2008’s $5.5 million topped February 2006’s $5.2 million by 6.4%, the bureau said. Proceeds from the 3% tax support and maintain visitor-oriented public facilities, such as the convention center, arenas and auditoriums.
SLOTS SPOTLIGHT: Miami-Dade Commissioner Carlos A. Gimenez wants Mayor Carlos Alvarez to report quarterly revenues from slot machines at county pari-mutuel sites. Voters approved slots at the horse and dog tracks and jai-alai in January. The pact between the county and the pari-mutuels calls for an initial payment to the county of $4 million, followed by 1.25% of the gross for the first three years and 1.5% of the first $250 million gross plus 2% over $250 million annually thereafter. Mr. Gimenez’s resolution before the Budget & Finance Committee last week would require the mayor to list for commissioners detailed revenues, recommend use of the funds and establish a trust for the money. The resolution also calls for review of gambling impacts on county traffic, infrastructure, public safety and social services, and any proposals in areas that require commission action. The resolution would ultimately require approval by the full 13-member county commission.