Written by Miami Today on June 26, 2008
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SKYLIFT POPS: Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection filings for SkyLift Holding LLC, owner of Miami SkyLift Balloon, have been dismissed. "SkyLift is expected to remove its equipment from the park," said Tim Schmand, executive director for Bayfront Park Management Trust. "They have a limited timeframe to do it in," Mr. Schmand said, but he didn’t cite an exact date. SkyLift’s passenger-carrying helium balloon gave 15-minute rides at Bayfront Park. The services of attorney Jordi Guso of Berger Singerman law firm are no longer needed, he added. In late May, the trust had asked Miami commissioners to enlist Mr. Guso to help with bankruptcy proceedings.
TAX CUT PROPOSED: Miami-Dade County’s proposed fiscal 2008-2009 $7.4 billion budget spares residents higher taxes and is to save the average homeowner money, Mayor Carlos Alvarez said Tuesday. It calls for administrative cuts totaling more than $100 million — 1,600 filled and empty post are to disappear — a 20% trim in park maintenance services and less police overtime. Each department is to slice its budget by $50 per employee. Should the commission approve this budget, an average homeowner is to save about $195 in taxes, he said. After hard hits last year, the proposed budget holds harmless community-based organizations. There are to be no cuts of police, fire or corrections officers. Full funding would also remain for the county’s Mom and Pop Small Business Grant Program. The emergency reserve would grow $10 million. Said Mr. Alvarez, "People have spoken very clearly that they want leaner government, they want tax breaks, and that’s what they’ve gotten in the last two years."
FEE INCREASES: The county’s proposed budget calls for some fee hikes, including in the building and planning and zoning departments. "Revenues generated by both of these functions have been precipitously reduced as a function of the construction industry and housing market. A percentage increase in fees across each of these areas has been applied in order to fund the resources necessary to adequately continue these functions," County Manager George Burgess wrote. Fees are to rise 25% in both departments. They haven’t gone up since 2001. Several jobs are to be cut from each department. However, the budget proposes adding eight planning division posts to support economic development and community planning. Residents are to see also "minimal" fee increases at marinas and after-school care programs, Mayor Alvarez said. Commissioners saw the full proposal for the first time Tuesday and have yet to weigh in. "We will analyze it," Commission Chair Bruno A. Barreiro said. "Always of concern to the Board of County Commissioners has been the community-based organizations and their funding, and several other agencies that serve the neediest in our community, and we will review that."
PAY TO VALET: Lexus-driving arts patrons, ready your wallets. The Lexus sponsorship that has allowed Lexus drivers to valet free at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts has ended. Valet parking is $20 regardless now of vehicle make. "The sponsorship ended a few weeks ago," said center spokesman Suzette Espinosa in an e-mail. "It was a joint, amicable decision, and the center is now in a position to freely pursue new marketing and sponsorship objectives, including automotive partnerships."
COLLECTION CULTURE: A little sunshine broke through the dreary fiscal picture Jackson Health Trust President & CEO Marvin O’Quinn painted in a presentation to Miami-Dade commissioners Tuesday. The health system, he said, achieved a record $100 million collection of overdue patient bills in May. Mr. O’Quinn attributed the record success to initiatives launched by Senior VP of Revenue Cycle Management Sandra Johnson. Her efforts have resulted "in a tremendous amount of cash coming into the institution," Mr. O’Quinn said of the collections executive brought in from Boston.
HOW DID SHE DO IT? Ms. Johnson, according to Mr. O’Quinn, made a priority of having staffers get the right information from patients upon registration, the correct coding of procedures and tests during the patients’ hospital stay, and the thorough collection and compiling of the correct information at the backend when bills are prepared, he said. The $100 million "is the most we’ve ever collected," Mr. O’Quinn said. Four years ago, average monthly collections were around $50 million, he said. Mr. O’Quinn estimated the hospital can recoup $30 million to $40 million more a year by upgrading its information systems.
INFORMATION CHALLENGE: Only months after announcing its $40 million local arts initiative, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is launching the Knight Community Information Challenge, a $24 million, five-year project geared to encourage US community foundations to find creative uses of media and technology to keep residents informed and engaged. Foundations can propose ideas, and Knight plans to offer $20 million to match funding for the top proposals. Initial ideas — 200 words or less — are due Sept. 15. Those selected to submit full proposals are to be notified within a week thereafter. Fleshed-out proposals are due Oct. 15. The organization is to host a media learning seminar Feb. 16-17 to help foundations learn about the information needs of communities. Details: www.informationneeds.org.
HEALTH HEAD: Fernando Treviño has been named dean of Florida International University’s Robert Stempel School of Public Health. Mr. Treviño, founding dean of the School of Public Health at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth, most recently was chancellor of Southern Illinois University. He has served as executive director of the American Public Health Association in Washington, DC, as executive editor of the American Journal of Public Health, and as president of the World Federation of Public Health Associations based in Geneva, Switzerland. He aims to bring more faculty diversity, collaborate with other FIU colleges and foster the school’s relationship with Miami-Dade’s Health Department. The department is to move to the university’s University Park campus as early as 2010. Mr. Treviño succeeds interim dean Michele Ciccazzo, who is to return to her prior post as associate dean.
GABLES MAYOR CALLS HUDDLE: Coral Gables is to make personnel changes within senior management. Mayor Don Slesnick called for a special meeting June 30 to discuss several issues, including personnel. He said some senior members who are in the city’s deferred retirement option program will reach the end of their contracts soon, including City Manager David Brown. The city has to decide how to fill the positions. Mr. Slesnick said he might discuss changing Gables’ government to an executive mayor form. One issue he said he hopes the commission avoids is an investigation of Mr. Brown over allegations of mismanagement that include backdating receipts, because "the investigation is still being conducted by the state attorney’s office."
$3 BILLION VOTE STANDS: Miami’s commission won’t be re-voting on the $3 billion global agreement with Miami-Dade County on a package of major projects. Circuit Court Judge Pedro Echarte Jr. ruled Monday that the commission’s December vote is valid. The issue was tossed out of auto dealer Norman Braman’s lawsuit aimed at voiding the agreement. Mr. Braman argued that open-government laws were violated, but the judge disagreed. "The judge found that Norman Braman did not allege sufficient facts, so the count has been dismissed and that (the re-vote) is no longer an issue," said City Attorney Julie O. Bru. The mega-plan includes construction of a baseball stadium, a port tunnel and a trolley system, money to prepare Bicentennial Park for arts and science museums, and more. The rest of the case proceeds to trial July 1.
BIOGRAPHER A WINNER: The first George E. Merrick Award of Excellence has been given, fittingly, to the woman who is now writing his definitive biography. Historian Arva Moore Parks received the award from the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce and the Allen Morris Co. at the wrapup of the chamber’s annual goals conference Saturday night at the Biltmore Hotel, whose restoration Ms. Moore Parks had aided. Company Chairman and CEO W. Allen Morris established the award this year after realizing that no honors were associated with the city’s founder.
BEVY OF STARS: The Merrick award drew a bevy of fitting finalists. The others were Betsy Adams, who helped the Coral Gables Garden Club to provide a statue of Mr. Merrick in front of City Hall; James Barker, who had been a long-time city commissioner; architect Willy Bermello, a former chairman of the chamber; historian Paul George, who has been giving tours of Coral Gables for two decades; chairman of the Coral Gables Museum Corp. George Kakouris; City Commissioner and Realtor William Kerdyk Jr.; Virginia Miller, who founded Coral Gables Gallery night; former city economic development director Martin Rosen; Barbara Stein, who brought Actors’ Playhouse to the city; and former mayor Dorothy Thompson.
KUBIK IS BACK: The Kubik at Morningside project is to come before Miami commissioners today (6/26) for a third time. A circuit court decision requires that the commission again review the mixed-use project. Area property owners appealed the commission’s previous approval of the 150-foot-tall project, to rise on the west side of Biscayne Boulevard between Northeast 56th and 58th streets. Some residents continue to be unhappy with the scale and request that LAB Developers shrink the 14-story towers.
HEADING TO DUBAI: Gail Thompson, who moved to Miami in 1999 to oversee construction of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, is moving abroad to direct a similar endeavor. The head of Miami-based Capital Project Management is to be the project director for the Dubai Opera House, a $1 billion component of The Lagoons, a $100 billion project comprised of 800 acres of retail, residential and commercial space, she said. Her involvement with the performing arts center lasted five years; she left before completion. "The idea of living abroad in what’s probably the most interesting place in the world right now is just compelling," she said. "It’s something of an adventure."
GREEN HOTEL: The Sonesta Bayfront Hotel Coconut Grove will receive honors as the first hotel in Coconut Grove deemed environmentally friendly by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as part of its Florida Green Lodging Program. A plaque and flag declaring the accreditation are to be awarded to the Sonesta by state officials July 9.