Proposed annexation moratorium dies before reaching full Miami-Dade commission
By Risa Polansky
Municipalities can continue vying to annex unincorporated areas after Miami-Dade commissioners killed a proposed moratorium in a tie vote in committee Tuesday.
Commissioner Barbara Jordan, along with co-sponsors Natacha Seijas and Joe Martinez, asked that the county suspend processing municipal boundary requests "until such time as the current economic crisis has passed and the Board of County Commissioners has had an opportunity to evaluate the impact of further municipal boundary changes on the unincorporated area," the now-dead legislation says.
In the down economy, the county is dealing with a rapidly shrinking property tax roll.
Miami-Dade took a 9.5% hit this fiscal year and projects a 12% decline next year.
Local governments countywide and beyond face similar situations.
To protest the proposed annexation moratorium, municipal officials turned out en masse from Miami Springs, Doral, Medley and Virginia Gardens, which have for years been working through the annexation process with the county and each other.
The four governments passed a joint resolution against the county moratorium measure Monday.
Doral Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez reminded commissioners at the county meeting Tuesday that "we've done everything that's been asked of us" throughout the lengthy process.
Allowing those with annexation requests in the pipeline to continue on would be the "fair and equitable" thing to do, he said.
Several local elected leaders said also that, though the popular argument is that annexation takes away from the county tax base, it can bring savings when it comes to spending on services.
"We realize the budget battles you have fought through," Coral Gables Mayor Don Slesnick acknowledged.
But providing service to enclaves — unincorporated "doughnut holes" surrounded by incorporated areas — can be more costly to the county than beneficial, he said.
Commissioner Audrey Edmonson said she'd support the proposed moratorium at the committee level but would vote against it at the full commission if it didn't exempt the municipalities with annexation applications in progress.
She won't have the chance.
When a measure dies in committee, the full commission never sees it.
Moratorium sponsor Ms. Jordan said her main concern is what happens to the rest of unincorporated Miami-Dade as areas join other municipalities — taking a "large portion of the tax base that we now rely on" and hurting the county's ability to provide services.
She mused hypothetically whether the county should just consider incorporating fully.
"When you keep picking away, then everything else just becomes enclaves," Ms. Jordan said.
She noted also that the moratorium wouldn't be permanent.
Her idea was to "get through crisis mode over the next year or two."
Co-sponsor Joe Martinez pointed out that no residents came to the meeting to oppose the proposed moratorium.
"I don't see any citizens out here saying they want to incorporate," he said. "It's only elected leaders" looking to increase their municipality's tax base.
Mr. Martinez's district is wholly unincorporated.
Sally Heyman, whose district includes several municipalities, pointed out that the local governments have been facing financial hardship, too.
Carlos Gimenez and Katy Sorenson, who also voted against the measure, protested taking a "shotgun" or "blanket" approach to handling annexation requests.
Already it's up to commissioners to OK or kill municipalities' requested boundary changes, so they can deny them case-by-case if that's the sentiment, both commissioners said.
Stopping them all through a moratorium would tie the commission's hands and be a disservice, Ms. Sorenson said, advocating to "look at the merits of each case" as they come.
Budget chief Jennifer Glazer-Moon also said each annexation application has to be looked at individually in terms of financial pros and cons.
When Ms. Jordan asked for examples of saving money by allowing municipalities to annex enclaves, Ms. Glazer-Moon said there have been cases where annexations have been beneficial, but "it's hard to make a blanket statement about annexations because they come in very different forms for different reasons."
Still, Ms. Jordan argued on the basis of budget.
"We say up here all the time that this is a very difficult time," she said. "We have opportunities to make sure that we are protecting the tax base that supports Miami-Dade County…. If we continue to let the tax base leave, we're harming unincorporated Miami-Dade County."
The proposed moratorium died in a 3-3 tie.