Shot down over the summer by Miami commissioners, Mayor Tomás Regalado’s administration will try to push a new tax-backed bond initiative onto the ballot next year.
Miami’s chief financial officer and budget director huddled with Regalado Tuesday morning in his second-floor office at Dinner Key for a general obligation bond “kickoff” session. From there, they began a series of meetings to solicit input from the five city commissioners who in a split decision torpedoed a fast-moving $275 million effort in July.
“All we’re asking them at this time is what are their priorities?” said City Manager Daniel Alfonso. “They claim the last time we didn’t talk with them enough, and so we’re going in basically with a blank slate to let them decide what they want to put out.”
Many of the projects Alfonso would like to fund through a new property tax assessment remain the same as the summer. That list included $20 million for police headquarters renovations, $17 million on a fire and rescue training center, $20 million to incentivize workforce housing, and $54 million for draining, flood prevention and pumps to help neighborhoods deal with sea level rise.
We’re going in basically with a blank slate to let [commissioners] decide what they want to put out
City Manager Daniel Alfonso
But Alfonso said there is nothing on paper now, as the administration intends to spend the better part of the year seeking feedback from commissioners and the public on what projects they want to pay for. Two large items that would have been funded in the failed bond issue this summer are clearly off the table now that commissioners have found other money sources: $30 million for a new emergency communications system and $37 million for renovations to the historic Marine Stadium.
Commissioner Wifredo “Willy” Gort says the city should fund neighborhood improvements to streets, swales and parks. Regalado says he wants the overall list of items to be reduced in cost, and wants half the projects funded by bond proceeds to address sea level rise and flooding.
“I would like to call it the Miami Forever Bond issue,” Regalado said. “I would only campaign [for the bond issue] knowing that I can tell the people of Miami unequivocally that this is about the future.”
Alfonso said he’d like to begin community meetings in February or March in order to ensure commissioners are comfortable with voting on the bond issue before they go on summer break in August. He said the city still has the debt capacity to issue $275 million in bonds without increasing residents’ property taxes beyond what they pay now, but there’s no presumption the final ask would remain the same.
Nor is there a presumption that giving commissioners greater input into the items in a bond referendum will guarantee their endorsement.
While the lack of public input was commissioners’ greatest gripe in July, next year the November ballot will also include a choice for a new mayor, and possibly two or three city commissioners, making a proposal to float bonds by leveraging property taxes an easy political football. Alfonso is also hoping to convince commissioners to endorse projects this year to redevelop Virginia Key’s marinas and a plan to sell the city’s riverside headquarters and build a new office building elsewhere — both items that would need voter approval.
“I don’t think it's something you should do in a year when all these elected officials are up,” said Commissioner and mayoral candidate Francis Suarez. “It’s a distraction from picking good candidates to represent our government.”