Fixes Ahead For Bond Program
By Ted Carter
Glitches have popped up in Miami-Dade County’s Building Better Communities bond
County officials have found themselves without a plan for spending interest earnings and have learned that an entire category of promised bond spending — mortgage subsidies of up to $137 million — has been deemed illegal.
In one glitch, county commissioners neglected to set a policy on using interest earnings. Do they stick to spending interest on projects that were listed before voter approval of the special ad valorem tax that funds the bonds? Or do they see the interest earnings as a way to cover new community needs that arise over the 15-year life of the bond program?
The answer could come Dec. 3, when commissioners are to decide whether to devote $10 million of a $20 million pot of interest money to Florida International University’s new College of Medicine. The commission’s Government Affairs and Environment Committee endorsed the proposal last week, but not before dissenter Dorin Rolle said he suspects "we’re going to back door this thing."
Commissioner Carlos Giminez supported recommending the FIU funding but emphasized that he wants the interest earnings to be spent on the specific projects for which the interest was earned. "It would seem to me that interest earned for each of the questions would stay within that body of projects."
Mr. Rolle said county officials have not delivered on commission requests for a plan. "Before the strong mayor came to office, we asked for a process. The process hasn’t come down."
In the other glitch, lawyers working on the bond issue failed to make sure that bond money could be legally used for mortgage subsidies for affordable housing. Subsidies are not capital, the county’s bond counsel has concluded.
The subsidies were a much-touted element of the bond program’s promise of spending $195 million on affordable
An affordable housing subcommittee of the Building Better Communities program’s Citizens Advisory Committee will recommend to county commissioners how to reallocate the mortgage subsidy funds, said Robin Reiter-Faragalli, committee chair.
The mortgage subsidies "were one of the key issues at the time we went out to work to pass the bond issue," she said. "We are a little disappointed at that, but we understand the issue of capital construction vs. mortgage subsidies."
Ian Yorty, interim director of the county’s Capital Improvements Department, said Tuesday that county staff has proposed the $132 million remaining from a total of $137 million be allocated to developing rental housing and, perhaps, building affordable housing.