But that comes at a cost. There is less money to pay for services such as road work and sewage repairs. Parks may go longer without being mowed, and park managers are scarce.
The 12 parks in Monestime’s district share a single attendant. Soar Park on Northwest 83rd Street and North Miami Avenue is empty on a typical weekday afternoon. Mold has grown on 30 old shuffleboard courts. The gate is rusted. The parking lot is peppered with potholes; garbage swirls in the wind; power lines hang low.
“We’d like to see someone here all the time,” Monestime said. “But there are no services here. Because of budget cuts, we can’t afford it.”
Earlier this year, Monestime tried to increase the tax rate for unincorporated areas. But he found no political will from his colleagues to do so.
Over the summer, Commissioners Audrey Edmonson, Barbara Jordan and Dennis Moss — then in the middle of heated election campaigns — gave impassioned speeches insisting they could not lower the rate yet again this year, as county administrators proposed. But when they learned that keeping the rate flat or increasing it would require a public tax-hike notice, they all backed off.
Moss, who represents mostly unincorporated communities in South Miami-Dade and has been reluctant to embrace incorporation, now says he has slowly changed his mind. He said he is studying cityhood possibilities in Richmond Heights, West Perrine and Goulds.
As long as elected leaders lack the political will to raise the tax rate for unincorporated areas, he added, there is little hope for improvement in those neighborhoods.
“That’s why I’ve evolved on my take on incorporation,” he said.
Those left behind
State legislators forced Broward County’s hand a decade ago, mandating the entire county be incorporated by 2010. That hasn’t entirely happened; there are still patchworks of poor unincorporated neighborhoods throughout the county. But Broward has mostly incorporated, leaving county commissioners to focus on broader issues like social services, the ports and transportation.
“I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a zoning issue before us,” Broward Mayor John E. Rodstrom said.
The mayor said the incorporation movement has benefited some residents, and hurt others. The main problem: Those left out of the incorporation fold. Cities, he said, cherry-picked the wealthiest of the unincorporated areas, leaving younger municipalities like Lauderdale Lakes struggling to pay bills.
Rodstrom’s advice to Miami-Dade was to balance new cities and city expansions, or annexations: “If you’re going to start an annexation plan, you should have an end game,” he said.
Miami-Dade is not yet willing to go the Broward route.
A heavily pro-incorporation county charter review task force that met earlier this year did not recommend that Miami-Dade move toward incorporating the entire county. Instead, the task force proposed removing commissioners from the incorporation process and allowing new city petitions to go directly to a popular vote.
County commissioners rejected that idea, saying they should referee new city proposals.
The charter amendment before voters on Nov. 6 would extend the time period and lower the signature threshold for cityhood activists to gather signed new-city petitions, and give them six months to collect signatures from 20 percent of the area’s registered voters, instead of the current time frame of three months.
The amendment would also require commissioners to vote on a new city petition — not defer it indefinitely as they have done in the past. If approved by the board, the matter would then go to the voters, who would have a say not only on whether to create a new city but also on the city’s municipal charter, which acts as its constitution. The current process requires two separate elections.
Though the proposal does not go as far as pro-incorporation advocates had hoped, it would be a step forward for communities that have spent more than a decade pushing for cityhood.
“When people feel connected to local government, they stay in Miami-Dade County and it makes for a stronger civic environment,” said Evelyn Greer, an incorporation advocate who helped found Pinecrest in 1996, and served as the village’s first mayor. “People feel a sense of pride living in their little town.”