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Front Page » Top Stories » Countys Bond Issue Would Go To Voters In Pieces

Countys Bond Issue Would Go To Voters In Pieces

Written by on July 1, 2004

By Susan Stabley
A $2.75 billion General Obligation Bond will face Miami-Dade County voters in pieces – potentially as many as nine separate questions – if commissioners approve the issue for the Nov. 2 ballot.

The county must break out projects proposed for the bond in categories, using multiple questions to defend against legal challenges, said program spokesman Juan Mendieta.

The bond referendum breaks into at least five categories – infrastructure, parks and beaches, cultural centers and historic preservation, public facilities, community development and housing – but county attorneys said they expect more questions than that on the ballot.

Commissioners will consider the language for the proposed ballot questions and the list of projects July 13.

Mr. Mendieta said breaking the issue into several ballot questions will make passage of the full list of programs difficult. "The more you throw out, the more likely it is not all will pass," Mr. Mendieta said.

The bond proposal cannot go before voters as one question, assistant county attorney Howard Whitaker told commissioners last week during a workshop.

Instead, the issue must be placed on the ballot in categories because the county "can’t couple unlike (projects) together," Mr. Whitaker said.

A bond would not cause taxes to increase for county residents. Instead, funds would be leveraged off the county’s current millage rate – possible because the county soon will retire the debt on a $553 million Decade of Progress bond from 1992 that paid for Metrozoo, Metrorail and other projects, according to County Manager George Burgess.

A proposed $2.75 billion General Obligation Bond for Miami-Dade County would include $260 million to benefit cities and unincorporated areas.

Created out of about 10% of the bond revenues, the pool of money could be tapped for projects not detailed in the current bond project recommendations.

County Commission Chairwoman Barbara Carey-Shuler called for the referendum to include language that would prevent "double-dipping," where a group that receives money as part of the larger package could not ask for more money from the fund set aside for municipalities.

Eligible projects would need approval from the commission through a process to be determined, according to the county’s proposal.

County officials say a bond would not cause taxes to increase for county residents – instead, funds would be leveraged off the current county millage rate. Debt payments on the new bond, dubbed Building Better Communities, would come online as the old bond retires.

Of the $260 million set aside for projects, half the funds would be divided among the county’s 34 municipalities and half would be dedicated for projects in the unincorporated areas of Miami-Dade. Distribution of funds would be determined through a weighted formula that considers each municipality on population (75%) and on its contribution to the tax roll (25%).

For example, Bal Harbour has fewer residents (3,312) than Bay Harbor Islands (5,188) but contributes more to the tax roll ($1.528 billion versus $ 492 million). Under the formula, Bal Harbour would be allocated $775,571, compared with $570,555 for Bay Harbor Islands.

During a county workshop last week, representatives for local organizations briefly spoke to the commissioners, offered support and requested larger allocations. Several said the county needs to purchase environmentally endangered lands as soon as possible as real estate prices continue to rise.

The workshop was the culmination of months of meetings, more than 100 with citizens and officials from the county’s municipalities.

"It’s not a stealth program by any stretch of the imagination," County Manager George Burgess told commissioners.

Residents have identified as much as $7 billion in projects, which the county administration has whittled down to its proposals. If voters approve, money would be obtained through seven bond issues over 13 years, according to Mr. Burgess.

The formula that allows the county to raise $2.75 billion assumes that voters will approve a doubling of the Homestead Exemption on property taxes. About $150 million of the bond funds would be used for issuance and financing costs. An advisory committee would be created that would answer to county commissioners and the county manager instead of an oversight board.

The bond would cost residents "$20 a year in today’s dollars to support the program," Mr. Burgess told commissioners.

The proposed project list is expected to be refined July 13, when commissioners consider it for approval for the November 2 ballot. Commissioners are to settle on how the language on the multiple questions will be worded. All ballot language needs to be finalized 60 days before elections, according to Seth Kaplan, spokesman for the Miami-Dade Elections Department.

Among the big-ticket items are:

•$130 million for tunnel access to the Port of Miami.

•$285 million for the area’s science, art and historical museums to move to new buildings in Miami’s Bicentennial Park.

•$125 million for Jackson Memorial Hospital.

•$75 million for infrastructure countywide.

•$55 million for the Miami Beach Convention Center.

Projects would be started over many years. "It’s not like everything happens in year one or year two," Mr. Burgess said.

Said Ms. Carey-Shuler: "These programs will not happen overnight."