Two weeks ago, Miami commissioners agreed that failing to swiftly refinance a $45 million loan would trigger a financial crisis.
But on Thursday, the only vote they cast was to delay taking action.
The commission was supposed to take up the first step toward issuing bonds to pay off the loan. The two-year note from Wells Fargo financed the city’s share of the PortMiami tunnel dig, and must be paid in full in January.
But City Manager Johnny Martinez asked to defer action until the next meeting when Commission Vice Chairman Marc Sarnoff will be on the dais. Sarnoff, whose district includes the tunnel, is traveling in China with the Miami Heat.
Martinez assured commissioners that the two-week delay would not prevent the city from meeting the January deadline.
His words, however, did little to comfort Commission Chairman Francis Suarez and Commissioner Frank Suarez, who blasted city administrators for hurtling the city toward a financial meltdown.
Suarez said he was told by bond counsel Albert A. del Castillo that Wells Fargo, which would underwrite the bonds, was already doubting its ability to meet the deadline.
“We had two years to do this,” Suarez said. “We’re now waiting until the 11th hour. To me, it’s unacceptable and inexcusable.”
Carollo voiced concerns about waiting another two weeks, pointing out that the city will be on the hook for the $45 million payment if it does not figure out a solution before January. The expense is not included in the budget.
Chief Financial Officer Janice Larned said her office was pursuing a backup plan that would enable Miami to take out another two-year loan from Wells Fargo. She admitted the new loan would come at a cost to the city.
Commissioners voted 3-1 to defer action on the bond issue, with Carollo casting the lone vote against the delay. The debt is technically the responsibility of the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency, a special taxing district charged with redeveloping the Omni neighborhood. The city took out the loan hoping the CRA would issue bonds before the balance came due. That did not happen.
If the commission moves forward, the city would issue the bonds and the CRA would make the debt-service payments.
Initially, Larned had said she hoped to have the bond issue done by Thanksgiving. Martinez is now saying mid-December is a more-likely target.