Two proposed amendments to the Miami-Dade charter would let cities establish special taxing districts for private neighborhoods and could make it easier for members of the public to copy government records.
The pair of ballot items haven’t gotten much attention in the 2016 election season — the elected officials behind both initiatives said they’re not aware of any public campaign to get them passed. The items need a majority vote in the November election to become part of the county’s charter.
Special taxing districts collect fees from property owners in certain areas and use the money to fund neighborhood services such as landscaping, lighting and security guards. There are hundreds of them in Miami-Dade, with names like Emerald Oaks, Lee Manor and Happy Farm Acres.
A majority of residents in a proposed district must agree to its creation, with approval of the 13-member County Commission. County agencies collect the money and administer the services. The system came under fire last year when Miami-Dade revealed chronic accounting mistakes throughout the system, with deficits requiring fee hikes for dozens of the 1,068 districts the county manages.
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The proposed charter amendment would allow Miami-Dade to turn over districts to cities if they sit fully within municipal boundaries, and also allow cities to create new districts with the same approval requirements for residents.
“This is in response to the accounting nightmare we were having,” said Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo, who sponsored the amendment. “This is to give cities better control. Let them control the accounting aspects of this and the flow of money.”
Miami-Dade commissioners have already passed an ordinance establishing the system for cities to take over districts, with a provision that the new law will expire if voters reject the amendment. The law requires that voters within the district approve a transfer, which requires consent from the city itself. The County Commission would still need to establish the rules for cities creating new districts.
While the taxing-district question would establish a new system in Miami-Dade, the public-records question would simply ratify local enforcement of an existing state rule.
Florida law requires governments to provide copies of public records, rather than just allow people to inspect them. Miami-Dade governments must follow state law when it comes to records, so county residents already have a right to copy public documents and other materials.
But the Citizens’ Bill of Rights in the county charter outlines a narrower requirement for public records, mentioning only that they be “open for inspection” at reasonable times. The proposed charter amendment would add the phrase “and copying, consistent with the requirements of the State of Florida’s public record laws.”
County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, who sponsored the amendment, said the change was recommended by the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission as a way to make it easier for local residents to protest being denied copies of records.
Since the Ethics Commission can enforce the county bill of rights, a resident can make a complaint to that board during a record dispute rather than having to sue in a state court over copies. “It’s going to ease the process,” Sosa said.