The General Obligation (GO) Bond is a go. Commissioners this week finalized the list of projects to be included and voted to place it on the November ballot. Voters will actually be asked to vote on three separate items, funding for Infrastructure ($198m), Parks ($169m), and Public Safety ($72m).
At their meeting this week, Commissioners tweaked the July 20 project list to include dredging for Biscayne Point and the Collins Canal and to increase the funding for Ocean Drive projects to $20m while coming up with reductions in some other areas where costs were deemed less or duplicative.
At the end of the day (literally when the ballot language was finalized), not everyone was satisfied.
Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez said, “This is just an arbitrary amount. This is not ready to go on a ballot right now. This is arbitrary and we need to figure out what the true basics are.” She advocated finalizing the City’s resiliency plan to include the recent recommendations of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) before putting a bond out.
“We haven’t vetted everything the way that we should,” she said. “I’m not supportive of it. I don’t think we’re making the right structural investments in our community.”
Commissioner Michael Góngora said, “I think it’s a mistake to put this on the November ballot. I think that we’re throwing too much at the residents too soon and I think you’re more likely to pass a GO Bond on a smaller voter turnout [in a special election] than in a larger voter turnout [in November] that aren’t familiar with what we’re doing and see it as a financial item.”
Commissioner Ricky Arriola disagreed. “This is the type of thing voters want and I think it will pass with very high marks.”
Addressing Góngora, Mayor Dan Gelber said, “I don’t necessarily disagree, but I do have the view that it’s gonna be a very high turnout election.” He noted the cost of a special election at “close to half a million dollars” adding “I like the idea of more people being there.”
Arriola added, “One thing to consider… we don’t know what the financial markets are going to look like any time, but I think we have better visibility between now and November than we will in say March or some other time in 2019 and that’s an important consideration where interest rates might be, where our credit rating might be, the appetite from the financial markets. I’ve talked to a lot of people that are in the industry. They say the market’s very strong, our credit ratings are as high as they’ve ever been. Interest rates are still very favorable so the cost of delaying is also going to put at risk our credit rating, the interest rates, and the ability to even float these bonds so I think the timing in November is actually very good from a financial perspective and I share the Mayor’s overall philosophical view, the more voters that vote, the better.”
Commissioner John Alemán said, “It’s a lot of money. Each category is going to be quite a lot of money… Because it’s so much money I think it’s right to ask as many of the residents as possible. If we pushed it off and we had a low turnout, I think that would open us up to sort of a criticism of ‘Most people didn’t want that and it was a low turnout so you were able to skew results.’ Bringing it to the election where everybody’s gonna be and vote, we’ll know and everyone will know that should it pass – and I hope it does because it’s important that we’re all in it together – that it is our collective community decision and I think we should feel good about that.”
“I think the action on the Inspector General which will be at the same time is related,” Commissioner Mark Samuelian added. “Hopefully the residents will see that as a wonderful step for government. They, hopefully, will see that that will add transparency and accountability to the GO Bond so I actually think there’s some positive connectivity of those two so I’ll support this today.”
Gelber added to that. “I will, or the Commission will, create an oversight committee to oversee the implementation of the bonds, probably for the pendency frankly. Although we’ll have an Inspector General, we’ll also have a group of citizens… who are going to be making sure that the will of the voters is carried out and that will definitely happen.”
Rosen Gonzalez said, “I wish I could say yes about this but I can’t. I feel like the amount is too large. I feel there’s a little bit of irresponsibility in it, ill planning, focuses too much on bells and whistles and not enough on the nitty gritty of basic needs all around… It’s a lot of money. $88 per $100,000 of assessed value for properties. It represents a large tax increase for the residents of Miami Beach. I feel like this morning a lot of these amounts were not well vetted and arbitrary and I think that if we’re going to do this we should wait until we have a comprehensive plan and then address the most basic needs first. I think that when we have a budget deficit, instead of increasing expenses and going into debt when what we need to do is tighten our belts and only spend on what we need, it’s just a different philosophy of how to run things so I’m voting no.”
All three ballot initiatives were approved 5-2 with Rosen Gonzalez and Góngora voting no.
Gelber concluded, “It’s really hard to go through this process… I feel like we did everything we could to be transparent and to bring the community in in every way possible. At the end of the day I feel like there’s a lot of meat and potatoes and vegetables in this thing and not a lot of dessert and I think that’s what it should be.”
“It’s a big one but it’s also incredibly defining to the community and potentially not simply transformational but really, I think, will help our community meet its aspirations, frankly,” Gelber said. “I feel like we’re giving them a good product to review and to decide on it. I hope they approve, but I think it’s going to, really, be up to the voters.”
When it came time to vote on the Infrastructure ballot initiative, Rosen Gonzalez said, “I’m voting no on this and voting yes on resiliency. I want everybody to know that we are completely committed to making sure that Miami Beach rises above” but she reiterated she did not believe the projects were fully vetted.
Góngora added, “I think this body’s worked really, really hard and I think this is good for the City and I don’t want my no votes to be misinterpreted that I’m somehow against it, but I will be consistent in all of them.”
Samuelian, one of the critics of the City’s plan to elevate roads said, “I have not been shy about my concerns about aspects of our stormwater management program. I have been very clear that we need enhanced planning, more external views, blue and green infrastructure. I’ve also been very direct about my concerns with road raising. Having said that, this bond provides us the opportunity to continue to improve what we’re doing. We cannot stop. We need to improve as we go and without the capital we wouldn’t be able to do the good things that as a group we’ve started to move through with so I’ll be supportive of this today.”
For updates on the projects and public meetings on the GO Bond, visit the City’s GOMB2108 website.
**Note: As of publication, the website had not been updated to reflect this week’s Commission discussion. Check back for details.
G.O. Bond Will Total $439,000,000:
Infrastructure, parks, and public safety projects finalized
Question is, how much and when?
Early voting starts October 22
Committee discussion on perception of crime boils over
Current law focuses on property owners, proposal would expand efforts to the companies that carry listings
Millage rate remains flat, some fees increase
Controlled demolition of 5775 collins avenue goes horribly wrong
Increased fees, new revenue opportunities up for discussion this week
First meeting since august break
Voters asked to decide if a 52 year catch-up is warranted