Miami-Dade County

Potential new or expanded cities vex Miami-Dade commissioners

More than 100 people filed into Miami-Dade County Hall on Thursday to voice their enthusiasm or indignation — there was little middle ground — about the possibility that their neighborhoods could become a city or be annexed into an existing one.

A vote on the specific communities’ future wasn’t even on the agenda.

But few questions in local government stir more passion than cityhood. And so, with county commissioners holding a special meeting to decide how to handle the issue in general, activists on all sides came out in full force.

“Everybody is afraid,” said Milena Connelly, who lives in Northeast Miami-Dade.

They didn’t get much clarity from the commission, which struggled once again with how to proceed.

After meeting for more than four hours, the most significant action that board members took was to tell Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s administration what details it wants in a planned report. The administration, under the commission’s earlier direction, is looking to hire a consultant to study the potential for new or expanded cities countywide.

Almost every other item on the agenda was postponed until that report is completed.

Commissioners did agree to require fewer petition signatures from residents of an area identified as potentially joining an existing city. To streamline the process, they also decided that city creation or expansion proposals would no longer need to be reviewed by a committee of the county’s Planning Advisory Board.

Miami-Dade has long been vexed by the intertwined issues of creating new cities (incorporation) and expanding existing ones (annexation). The county has 34 municipalities, where just over half of the county’s roughly 2.6 million residents live. The rest live in unincorporated neighborhoods whose municipal services, such as police and trash collection, are provided by the county.

That is different from Broward County, which long ago decided that nearly the entire county should be part of a city so that county government could focus on regional issues, including trade and transportation.

The eight new Miami-Dade cities created since 1991 shrank the county’s property-tax base, prompting county commissioners to put a moratorium on the requests in 2007. They lifted the ban in 2012, and then convened a task force to recommend their next steps.

But the task force’s work drew criticism because some of the panel’s members had personal agendas that supported or opposed cities, according to some commissioners. The commissioners themselves had appointed the members.

Shortly after giving up on the task force, commissioners blocked an effort 10 years in the works by four Northwest Miami-Dade cities to divvy up about eight square miles of commercial and industrial land west of Miami International Airport.

Residents care deeply about who is responsible for their services because it affects their quality of life — and their pocketbooks. Advocates for cities say they get better services from elected leaders and administrators closer to home. Opponents counter that they are pleased with what the county provides and fear municipal government would mean more bureaucracy and higher property-tax rates.

On Thursday, activists wore matching colors to identify their positions. Green was for the incorporation of a neighborhood in North-Central Miami-Dade. White was against the annexation of commercial properties to the city of West Miami. Others wore yellow or red.

Commissioners sounded just as frustrated as their constituents that they did not have a clear answer on what to do with nine groups exploring cityhood and numerous annexation proposals from municipalities.

“The reason we go through these kind of starts and stops and starts again is because this is a very complicated issue,” Commissioner Dennis Moss said. “This is not something that can be done [easily] because you have so many conflicts that are going on.”

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