The Village of Biscayne Park has six people running for three open commission seats in Tuesday’s election. The seventh, Jenny Johnson-Sardella, dropped out of the race.
With a population of 3,164, the village is working with $2.3 million budget and is fighting to secure sustainable sources of income, as nearly all of its tax base stems from residential property.
The candidates are focusing on everything from annexation to enforcing code compliance. Here is a summary of the candidates’ positions:
Bilt moved to the village 15 years ago with his wife of 19 years, Vicki, and they have one daughter. He said his platform is based on beautification, code enforcement and respectfulness. Bilt is favors researching the possibility of annexing land.
• Beautification: Bilt believes that village government is unable to fully fund maintenance and improvement projects such as planting in the medians, so residents, under the supervision of the Parks and Parkways and Public Works, should handle those types of jobs.
“We should allow residents, on a block-by-block basis, to enhance the street signage, as residents could raise funds for signage to be purchased by the park,” Bilt said. “Wouldn’t it be nice for people to drive through our park and immediately recognize that they are in Biscayne Park because of the beauty of the medians and attractive street signage designating Biscayne Park?”
• Code Enforcement: Bilt says he wants to ensure property values are not only maintained but increase as a result of proper code enforcement.
“I have an excellent grasp of code issues, having served on the Code Review Committee. A strong code enforcement process is one of the single most important actions we can continue in order to strengthen our property values,” Bilt said.
• Annexing:The issue of annexing has come before the commission several times. Former Village manager Ana Garcia presented a complete report that included potential revenues as well as what land could be annexed. Most recently, Commissioner Roxanna Ross brought the issue before the commission, requesting the village pursue further research, but commissioners Barbara Watts and Mayor Noah Jacobs requested changes to her resolution. Bilt believes annexing should not be dropped.
“I would recommend that we pursue this action so we can get the facts, including anticipated additional revenues and expenses under different annexation scenarios. We need a complete picture, which is not available to us unless and until we make an application,” Bilt said.
Coviello has lived in the village for four years with his partner of eight years, Lucas Lopez. He bases his platform on annexation, the Village Hall and code compliance.
• Annexation: Coviello believes that annexation can be the answer to the village’s budget issues. The current tax rate is 9.70; the state cap is 10. If successful, Coviello said, annexation could increase revenues and replenish village reserves.
“If annexation is deemed necessary, we then need a comprehensive study addressing multiple scenarios for annexation, which must include the revenue gained and the costs necessary to service the annexed area under each of the scenarios. Obviously, there is the possibility that even if the village pursued annexation, it would not be successful for multiple reasons. Because of these uncertainties, we need a back-up plan. Thus, regardless of whether the village ultimately decides to pursue annexation, we need to continue looking at other means to generate revenue, as well as cost-saving measures,” Coviello said.
• Village Hall: Coviello wants to seek grants and other funding sources to handle the repairs to the village’s historic log cabin. He says the cabin should be for community functions, not to house village administration offices. For that, he suggests developing village-owned land on Northeast Sixth Avenue.
“A small limited commercial component that is carefully planned and designed should be on the table and considered, among other options. Using that land, we may have the opportunity to gain new village administration space and bring in enough funds to repair the log cabin,” Coviello said.
• Code Compliance: Coviello also equates code compliance with improving property values.
“We need to continue our efforts to educate the community on our code of ordinances and clean-up our community through a fair, but firm, code compliance process. In most instances, our residents respond to courtesy notices and compliance is achieved. For those who do not, we must enforce our rules,” Coviello said.
Mayor Noah Jacobs
Jacobs has been the mayor of the village since 2011. Although he hasn’t served in other political offices, he has worked on political campaigns and worked as a speech writer on Capitol Hill. He married his wife, Elizabeth, and moved to the village in 2004; their daughter, Cassie, is in the third grade.
He wants to focus on professionalizing the current city codes, as well as expand family activities. He also seeks other ways to raise revenues other than through annexation.
• City Code: Jacobs believes property rights and village code are not mutually exclusive. To that end, Jacobs says he has worked with the commission and administration to start the process of “professionalizing code enforcement.”
“We are a unique, quirky and wonderful community allowing for and enriched by a myriad of different personalities and lifestyles,” Jacobs said. “We are a small, vibrant community. People that have different interests, skill sets, and ways of enjoying the environment around us will continue to be appreciated. However, for those of our friends and neighbors that might not be able to maintain a given residence or other property, we've worked to help them bring code issues into compliance.’’
• Family Activities:“I've worked through my first two years to encourage and expand young family activities in our community. I feel it's important to create a sense of community for our residents of all ages. By the way, just recently, I'm proud to say, I voted for, and the commission approved the creation of a daycare and preschool at the Church of the Resurrection.”
• Annexation Alternative: Although Jacobs says he would consider annexing as a viable source for increasing revenues he is concerned that it would cost thousands of dollars just to get the necessary information and complete an application. Instead, he proposes mixed-use property.
“I brought forward an idea of a mixed-use property that would increase and diversify our tax base and give us a new administration/police building in the process. This change would only have to be approved by the Biscayne Park Commission, as it is on property we already own, not anyone at the county level. This would allow us to refurbish the gem that is our log cabin. I agree that we as a community would benefit from a more diversified and larger tax base, but I'm not certain that annexation as currently proposed is the right way to do it. ,” Jacobs said.
Jonas has lived in the village since 2005. He is the president of the Biscayne Park Foundation and has also served on the Planning and Zoning Board, as well as the Code Review Committee. Jonas is also the co-founder of a group of residents who have pooled their own money to donate public art to the village.
Jonas’ platform includes improving the fiscal foundation and establishing a positive direction on the commission.
• Fiscal Foundation: “The fiscal structure of the village is such that the village is always marginal. We have sometimes had more money in reserve, and sometimes less money, but we have not used money to make necessary improvements. Our current reserve is inadequate to meet incidental needs, like hurricane clean-up or replacement of municipal vehicles. And the reserve has been dwindling for the past decade or more. We are on a time clock until just a few years from now, when we can no longer meet our normal responsibilities. There has been talk from a few quarters of the likelihood, if not certainty, that we will soon no longer be able to be an independent municipality. The state will decommission us,” Jonas said.
• Village Improvements: Jonas said the village needs median development and improvement. He also wants to renovate the log cabin and expand the police department.
“I would love to see a concerted and wide-ranging program of public art, as part of municipal enhancement. It may be advisable to plan for a barrier wall along the railroad track from 121 Street to Griffing Boulevard. We also need encouragement for residents/homeowners to improve their properties.”
• Direction for commission: “The commission is increasingly stuck and aimless, in part due to the presence of commissioners who have neither the perspective nor the interest for preserving and improving the park. Many meetings have deteriorated into squabbling and empty posturing.”
Ross served the village as its mayor from 2009-2011, and has been a commissioner since 2011. She has lived in the village since 1987 with her husband of 27 years, Chuck Ross. She is focused on the village finances, code review, and the well-being of the village.
• Finances: Ross wants to find alternate sources of revenue including annexation to increase sustainability, grant funding to develop village enhancements and support efficiencies.
• Code review: Ross wants to encourage the Code Review Committee to complete its review of the village code, report to the commission on recommendations, then take appropriate steps to implement all necessary changes to update the code.
• Well-being of the village: Ross wants to improve the log cabin and ensure proper maintenance of the tree canopy as well as promote events at the Ed Burke Recreation Center.
“I support a welcome environment for public comment and greater public participation; transparency in government and inclusion that creates opportunities for a larger number of residents to participate in fair governance,” Ross said. “Finding common areas of agreement and moving forward with the best interests of our village should be the primary focus.”