Miami-Dade bond interest can't back new projects until voter-approved list is finished
By Risa Polansky
Interest income from Miami-Dade's Building Better Communities bonds can't back new endeavors until all voter-approved projects are completed or at least fully funded, county commissioners agreed last week.
The decision comes more than a year after the commission handed Florida International University $10 million in interest earnings from the general obligation bonds for a medical school residents never considered in approving the $2.9 billion program in 2004.
The newly OK'd rules say no net interest income or unused proceeds from the bonds may be spent on new projects until the voter-approved list is completed or the commission is satisfied that funding has been identified to finish every planned project first.
Until then, the "surplus funds," as the legislation calls them, can fill budget gaps for voter-approved bond projects, be spent to accelerate approved projects or be used to retire bond debt.
All would require commission approval.
Should all projects be fully funded or completed and the commission wish to use surplus funds to pay for a project voters never considered, the project would have to be "within the general scope" of the bond questions voters approved, the legislation says.
The project would need to be ready to go — resources in place and set to begin within 270 days.
It would also have to have operational funds lined up.
Should commissioners change their minds and wish to use the money to fund a new project before voter-approved projects are funded or complete, they'd have to vote to waive the new rules.
Before agreeing in December 2007 to grant Florida International the millions in interest for an outpatient and ambulatory health clinic, commissioners griped about the lack of guidelines for using surplus bond proceeds.
The county was three years into the bond program at the time.
Only Dorrin Rolle put his foot down, voting against the payout to the university.
The other commissioners agreed to spend the money on the university project but vowed that straying from the voter-approved list was a one-time thing.
"It won't happen again," José "Pepe" Diaz said during the 2007 vote, acquiescing in the end because the school's project "is for the whole community."
At the time, commissioners demanded from the administration a set process for spending bond program interest and unused proceeds.
They put their final stamp of approval on that process last week with little discussion.
The Citizens' Advisory Committee, formed to advise the county in implementing the bond program, is to weigh in before the commission votes to use the surplus proceeds.
Commissioner Carlos Gimenez suggested that it take a two-thirds commission vote to override an advisory committee recommendation and a simple majority to support one.
Commissioners agreed and unanimously approved the new guidelines.
They learned during the vote that the county this month completed its second general obligation bond sale, selling about $203.8 million of the planned $350 million issue.
Choosing to wait out troubled markets, the county sold about $146 million in December.