Miami-Dade County

Regalado doubles down on sea-rise projects as cost estimates approach $1 billion

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado has given the City Commission a $300 million wish list of projects he proposes be financed by a general obligation bond.
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado has given the City Commission a $300 million wish list of projects he proposes be financed by a general obligation bond. cmguerrero@elnuevoherald.com

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado has released his final proposal to fund scores of pricey government projects through a new property tax, increasing his previous request by $25 million and doubling down on money for pumps, sea walls and other measures to brace the city against rising seas — a plight administrators now believe could cost taxpayers close to $1 billion.

How they’ll pay the entire bill won’t be decided now, or maybe for decades. But commissioners and voters could soon be asked to approve a significant amount of seed money.

With time running out to get the general obligation bond on the November ballot, Regalado on Wednesday sent commissioners a $300 million wish list heavy on flooding and stormwater projects.

Culled from a $1.3 billion menu of projects released two weeks ago, Regalado and City Manager Daniel Alfonso are asking commissioners and voters to embrace $192 million in spending on sea-rise mitigation and flood prevention, $58 million for parks and cultural facilities, $23 million on road improvements, $20 million for affordable housing, and $7 million to fund a new fire station at 4101 NW Seventh Ave.

The mayor will ask commissioners to vote July 27 to endorse taking on the new debt, which would be funded through property taxes and issued as old debt comes off the books.

“I do think it’s a very well-thought project [list], but we’ll see what the commission does,” said Regalado, who has made the bond proposal the chief priority of an ambitious agenda during the waning months of his final term as mayor. “We did our part.”

Think of the plan as part of an integrated approach to lifting up the city, one neighborhood at a time, starting with what’s underground up.

City Manager Daniel Alfonso

Commissioners can — and almost certainly will — change details about how the money would be spent should they agree to place Regalado’s bond proposal on the ballot. Should voters approve the bond, a bond committee would oversee spending and continue to have the power to change where money is allocated.

Regalado has been pushing the general obligation bond — baptized “Miami Forever” — for more than a year now. Last summer, when he first broached the idea, commissioners chastised him for bringing forth a half-baked project list with little input from them or the public. That $275 million list of projects included $37 million for renovations to Miami Marine Stadium and $26 million for a new emergency radio system — expenses that have since been funded through different means.

Last year’s wish list also included just $74 million for pumps and sea walls — a number that has nearly tripled in the mayor’s latest proposal.

If the commission doesn’t want to put this on the ballot, my response will be ‘I’m sorry about the next generation.’

Mayor Tomás Regalado

Regalado attributes that jump in spending to a series of community meetings that, he says, proved that Miami’s voting public want their government to take climate change seriously.

“Throughout the community, they, the people, really understand that something has to be done. This is not bullshit. This is real people talking,” he said. “If the commission doesn’t want to put this on the ballot, my response will be ‘I’m sorry about the next generation.’ 

Importantly, the city is seeking bids from engineering firms to craft a new stormwater master plan to replace a 2012 study that failed to include sea-rise projections. In Regalado’s new proposal, while some of the sea-rise money would specifically fund pump station upgrades in communities like Belle Meade, a vast majority would be generally reserved by neighborhood and allocated more specifically once the new stormwater plan is completed.

Even if commissioners approve the bond, they’ll still have their work cut out for them in bracing the city of nearly 500,000 for a changing climate. In a memo Wednesday, Alfonso noted that Miami administrators now believe they’ll need around $900 million to pay for all the drainage, roadway, parks and coastal upgrades necessary to keep the city functioning as Biscayne Bay and the Miami River swell.

“Think of the plan as part of an integrated approach to lifting up the city, one neighborhood at a time, starting with what’s underground up,” Alfonso wrote, “coordinating and collaborating across silos of departments, jurisdictions, community based organizations, university partners, and the private sector and with appropriate input from residents and local businesses.”

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