A small pocket of Miami-Dade County is having a tug of war over incorporation.
Homeowners who live near The Falls shopping mall between Pinecrest and Palmetto Bay are debating whether the community should become a city with its own government. Would its creation give residents better control of development or just facilitate corruption and increase property tax bills?
“It’s been the same argument here for more than a decade,” said Dave Allen, a resident. “And there’s no plan on it dying down now.”
The discussion was recently revived, and two opposing community groups that have pushed for and against the creation of the city for at least a dozen years have regrouped.
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In the last few months, Daniella Levine Cava, Miami-Dade District 8 commissioner, has sponsored several public meetings and now is arranging for a survey of residents in the neighborhood, tentatively dubbed “Village of the Falls” — steps leading up to her decision whether to take the incorporation question to the County Commission.
“Survey results will indicate whether or not I move forward in bringing this to the commission. I want to make sure I’m representing the whole community, not just some of it,” said Levine Cava, who is running for reelection in 2018. She expects the survey will be completed this fall.
But incorporating a city requires a lengthy, complicated process.
If Levine Cava decides to move forward, the County Commission would vote on whether to create a municipal advisory committee. The committee would hold public meetings over a period of at least two years during which it would study the pros and cons of incorporation, hear presentations by county staff, create a sample budget and a document that outlines how the area wouldn’t be unduly harmed by incorporation. A consultant would review the committee’s work and make a report to the county staff. Then the County Commission would vote on whether to put the question on the ballot.
If a majority of residents vote yes, the County Commission would appoint a charter commission, which would develop a charter for the proposed city and a resolution calling for the election of that city’s government.
“It could take years,” Levine Cava said.
Community leaders in favor of incorporation say Palmetto Bay is a good example of what The Falls could look like. Both cities have populations of roughly 24,000, per capita incomes of about $40,000, and median home values in the mid to upper $300,000s.
If formed, the new city’s main sources of revenue would be sales taxes generated by The Falls shopping center and property taxes, with 80 percent of the land being residential and the rest mostly retail shops, offices and small businesses.
“Incorporation would lead to as much as $2.8 million to $4.5 million of taxes being retained in our neighborhood and not being spent in other communities,” Allen said.
Andy Nierenberg, a longtime resident of The Falls area, helps lead a community group in favor of incorporation. He told the Miami Herald the area has been a “donor community for far too long,” paying more in taxes than what the area gets in services from the county.
Unless you are your own municipality, and control your own land use, development and budget, you are a cash cow for the county. What we want is citizen control.
Andy Nierenberg, proponent of incorporation
“Unless you are your own municipality, and control your own land use, development and budget, you are a cash cow for the county,” Nierenberg said. “What we want is citizen control; neighbors being able to elect our own town council, who will then represent us when it is time to make decisions. Right now we have 13 people with no skin in the game making all the decisions.”
But having another layer of government is exactly what many residents don’t want, said Jed Shlackman.
“It would just serve to create another venue for cronyism, corruption, and regressive wealth redistribution — enriching narrow interests at the expense of everyone else, with a definite net increase in the size and cost of government for people in the area, since there would now be both a county and municipal government, with jobs and costs and fees that didn’t previously exist,” Shlackman said. “We need to reform and clean up government as it is, not create more positions of power with lack of public oversight and limited accountability.”
But the pros outweigh the cons, Nierenberg said.
“When you are talking about an election for mayor and council, you are voting for your neighbors, for people you can bump into at Publix or at the library,” he said. “You have less opportunity for potential corruption when you have your own small city instead of 13 people doing whatever they want on the other edge of the county. ”
We need to reform and clean up government as it is, not create more positions of power with lack of public oversight and limited accountability.
Jed Shlackman, incorporation opponent
But incorporation will cause tax bills to rise— one of the primary reasons many are opposing incorporation, Robert M. Mišić says.
“How can a municipality such as the Village of the Falls be viable without any fire and police stations or libraries located within its borders or a substantial commercial tax base to support it?” he asked.
“The bottom line is that there are no tangible benefits to the residents and business owners of the proposed Village of the Falls. The Village of the Falls will just be another layer of government with the potential for corruption that will charge its residents more taxes, harass them with code enforcement issues and force them to pay to make up for budget deficits.”
According to proponents of incorporation, the city would subcontract police and fire from Miami-Dade County, at least for the first three years.
“As far as taxes, we don’t have to fear them going up if we elect people who will have our best interest at heart. That’s the whole point,” Allen said. “Look, we need this. We need it to improve aspects of our community, including parks, schools, roads, sidewalks, swale areas and stormwater drainage by ensuring the taxes that we already pay are used in our community and we can secure other available funding, such as grants.
“We need to be able control real estate development growth and infrastructure, ” Allen added. “How else will we be able to control our destiny?”