New safety rules for pool lighting systems won initial approval from Miami-Dade commissioners Tuesday, about two months after a 7-year-old boy was electrocuted while swimming at his North Miami home.
The regulations would require new private pools to use low-voltage lighting systems under water, already a requirement at commercial pools. Commissioner Audrey Edmonson sponsored the rule change on the heels of a CBS 4 report on electrical safety following Calder Sloan’s April 13 death and after a string of non-fatal incidents where people were shocked in local pools.
Michael Goolsby, director of the county’s code division, said the lower-voltage lights required at public pools are not strong enough to kill during a malfunction. “The electrical shock you would get would not be fatal,’’ he said. “It might hurt, but you would not get paralyzed.”
Commissioners endorsed the requirements without comment at their regular bimonthly meeting, but the regulations must come back to the panel for a second vote before winning final approval. The proposed rules would apply only to newly built private pools; they would not require retrofitting of existing ones.
The lower-voltage systems, which Goolsby said are now the industry standard, would be required if the owner of a private pool sought permits to replace an existing high-volt light system. High-wattage pool lighting systems typically accommodate 120-volt connections, rather than the 15-volt connections that are common at public pools, Goolsby said.
On Tuesday, commissioners also:
• Approved borrowing $4.5 million to purchase a 20-acre expansion site for the Kendall Indian Hammocks Park. The land, once home to the Haven Center facility for disabled residents, had been under contract by the neighboring Palace nursing home for a new Alzheimer’s center and for employee housing.
The county, which once owned the land and had the right to match all purchase offers on the property, initially talked with Palace executives about allowing the $7.5 million sale to go through in exchange for a five-acre piece of the property for parks and some improvement funds. County officials last week opted to scuttle that deal and instead exercise the option to purchase the land outright. Parks director Jack Kardys said the county would borrow $4.5 million and use existing funds from development fees for the remaining $3 million.
The item prompted the most heated moment of the meeting when Palace lawyer Marc Faust tried to speak during the commissioners’ discussion. Commission Chair Rebeca Sosa warned him that the time for public comment was over, and then had Faust escorted out by police when he continued speaking from the front row.
In an interview, Faust said he was stunned that Miami-Dade would be so quick to dismiss an expansion plan that would have helped the economy and tax base. “We had the entire deal fleshed out,’’ he said. “Everything is for naught.”
Parks director Jack Kardys said the Palace deal ultimately wasn’t as attractive as buying the land itself. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,’’ he said.
• Approved borrowing $6 million for improving Miami’s Flagler Street. The $12 million project, jointly funded by Miami and Miami-Dade, would rehab the downtown streetscape from Biscayne Boulevard to the county courthouse.
• Opted to continue funding for non-profits currently receiving grants. Commissioners have long threatened to submit so-called Community Based Organizations to a competitive process for county grants. But commissioners voted to keep the current list of recipients intact for the upcoming budget year, and then impose the screening process for the 2015-16 fiscal year.
“We’ve been at this for eight years,’’ Commissioner Sally Heyman said. She cast one of two votes against the proposal, with Commissioner Bruno Barreiro also voting against the plan. While the list of recipients would remain the same, the vote does not affect Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s plan to cut the $20 million CBO budget by 10 percent for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
• Accepted a report from the county’s task force on rising sea levels. The 192-page report urges Miami-Dade to implement past recommendations on dealing with shrinking coast lines and higher tides, as well as exploring ways to tackle more costly property insurance, contamination of water supplies by salt-water intrusion, and to make Everglades restoration a top priority.
“Sea-level rise is not debatable,” Harvey Ruvin, the elected clerk of the courts and chair of the task force, told commissioners during a brief presentation of the report before the meeting’s formal start. “We’ve got to start acting now.”