Council, residents raise concerns over $55 million bond proposal

Thursday, July 5, 2018 0 Comments

 

A $55 million bond referendum proposal to complete the master plan for Miami Lakes Optimist Park and purchase open green space left Town Council members and residents miffed over an attempt to rush a vote for the November ballot during the midterm elections. 

At a special meeting last week, most residents criticized the timing of Mayor Manny Cid’s idea to ask voters for their approval to borrow money to finish a wish list of projects that are included in the town’s strategic plan. 

Most lawmakers alluded to learning about the special meeting just days before the conference and didn’t have enough time to study the proposal and prepare questions for town staff. 

“I don’t know what my questions are,” said Councilmember Ceaser Mestre. “Did land owners approach us? It seems like we are putting the cart before the horse. I appreciate your passion but it looks bad.”

The $55 million bond referendum would finance the renovation project for Miami Lakes Optimist Park ($5 million); improvements to Royal Oaks Park and the Mary Collins Community Center; purchase Madden’s Hammock and the Par 3 Golf Course ($ 7 million) and preserve them as passive parks; $20 million for green space acquisition; and build a bridge park ($2.5 million) on the N.W. 154 Street I-75 overpass to keep the road closed to outside traffic. 

But residents said the issue should’ve initially been discussed at a workshop instead of asking council members to vote on ballot language, and determine if Miami Lakes can afford the debt since the town may receive less in tax revenues if voters approve the additional $25,000 Homestead Exemption.

“We are concerned about the budget and cuts,” said Maria Kramer. “With the additional $25,000 Homestead Exemption, which most likely will get approved, how much will the town lose? An issue this big without input from residents is an insult.”

Council members agreed to workshop the issue but Cid’s colleagues and residents chastised him for rushing an issue of this magnitude for the ballot in November.

Vice Mayor Frank Mingo was vocal about his objections to rushing the ballot, saying he’s “very” disappointed the town’s protocol had not been followed.

“I learned of the meeting just days before,” he said. “This should be discussed as a new business item then discussed during several workshops. This is the biggest decision for the this town since incorporation.”

Cid defended his position, indicating his only intention was to discuss the proposal and determine the town’s direction on possibly borrowing money to speed up the capital improvement projects.

He said the land acquisition fund was his idea since his office has been flooded with phone calls from constituents asking the town to preserve land to prevent over development.

“People ask me about these issues and when the special meeting was called, I put the items on the agenda to see where we can go from there,” Cid said. “My phone has been bombarded with calls from residents about let’s do something about preserving land. I say let’s put our money where our month is. Let’s buy land and preserve it forever.”

Cid said reality is the town isn’t able to compete the parks renovations without borrowing money since the pay-as-you go plan has failed.

“We have to be honest with the residents, if we don’t do anything about it, it’s not going to happen,” he said.

He said Miami Lakes kids travel to Weston, Pembroke Pines and Doral to play at their park facilities since the field conditions at the town’s parks are not safe.

Cid said upon his request, Town Manager Alex Rey furnished him a list of under-funded and unfinished projects in Miami Lakes’ strategic plan.

With 19 on the wish list, town staff estimated the costs at $55 million or more to complete them all.    

“I will keep dreaming big as mayor and I don’t care who criticizes me,” Cid said. “I won’t stop until this town is at the level where it needs to be.”

But council members said the money for 19 projects is too high for the town’s budget to cover over a number of years. Council members will prioritize some of the projects at the workshop to put before Miami Lakes voters in November or next year during a special election.

Council members said the master plan for the 47-year-old Miami Lakes Optimist Park, which includes a gymnasium, and the N.W. 154 Street bridge park should be the town’s top priorities if they were placed on a ballot. 

A bridge park would keep the roadway closed to traffic since the county is pursuing to opening up the bridge in the future.

Rodriguez said the 13 year-old pay-as-you-go plan is not working to complete the master plan for the park.

“Our parks need serious rehab,” he said. “I wan’t my kids to enjoy playing the in the park and hope my grandkids can enjoy it was well.”

Rodriguez said he doesn’t mind borrowing money.

“Everyone has debt,” he said. “I have a debt and you have a debt. If I didn’t have a debt I couldn’t afford to buy a house or car because I don’t have the cash. I don’t mind floating a bond to see if residents want to borrow the money to help out our parks.”

Other residents shared his sentiments.

Terry Murphy, a government consultant and former aide to Miami-Dade County Commissioner Natasha Seijas, said he would vote in favor of the bond referendum.

“I would be happy to vote for the projects, especially the bridge park,” he said. “I would like to see some of the these get done before I go.”

Alex Sanchez said the parks should be competed before his kids go off to college.

“Our kids are grown now and will be going off to college without the foundation,” he said. “As a parent, you want to make sure we have the facilities at the parks for our kids to enjoy.”

Longtime Miami Lakes Optimist Club member Jim Hamilton said about 1,500 kids play at the decrepit park and offered his assistance to complete the renovations.

“You have our full support on any efforts to improve our parks,” he said.

 


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