Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade commissioners can’t decide what to do with left over Dolphins elections cash

Deciding what to do with left over cash from the Miami Dolphins’ short-lived referendum on stadium improvements proved too much Tuesday for Miami-Dade commissioners.

After delaying a vote earlier this month and considering three competing spending proposals at length, board members declared a stalemate, conceding they could not agree on any of the plans.

Instead, they asked the administration to bank the windfall — about $2.3 million — in the county’s general fund. They will decide during the next few months how to spend the money in next year’s budget.

The anticlimactic conclusion came after a tug-of-war among commissioners on the dais. At one point it appeared that practically each one had a different idea of where the dollars should go.

“Before the budget, it’s very easy for us to give money away,” Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa said. “But then when the budget time comes and we have to talk about either increasing taxes or asking our employees to make sacrifices, that is when things get hard on this table.”

The money was left over from the nearly $4.8 million nonrefundable payment the Dolphins made to the county to cover the costs of a proposed May 14 special election. The referendum was called off after the Florida House of Representatives concluded its annual legislative session without taking up a bill required for the election to take place.

Sosa co-sponsored a proposal, along with Vice Chairwoman Lynda Bell and Commissioner Sally Heyman, to use the extra money to pay for upgraded elections equipment, as requested by Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Commissioner Barbara Jordan suggested creating a low-interest, small-business development program; Commissioner Juan C. Zapata wanted to evenly distribute the money among board members to fund summer programs for children and “mom and pop” business grants.

Commissioners repeatedly praised the three ideas. But they couldn’t settle on a single one. No one from the administration weighed in; Gimenez, who is in Paris on an economic development trip organized by the Beacon Council, was absent from the meeting. So was Heyman. Commissioner Xavier Suarez was absent during the discussion.

Sosa, Bell and Commissioner Javier Souto argued the money should go toward purchasing expensive elections equipment, as recommended by a task force that reviewed problems in last year’s general election, when some voters stood in line at the polls for up to seven hours. The county may otherwise have to borrow to pay for the upgraded equipment.

“Have we forgotten that everyone was laughing” at Miami-Dade over the election? Sosa asked. “We can’t allow that to happen.”

But Commissioner Jean Monestime said the money wouldn’t be enough to fund all of the elections upgrades. And others on the board argued that the Dolphins intended for the renovations to Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens to spur economic development — so the team’s money should go to small businesses or to programs to help children play sports.

“It belongs to the people, and that’s what I was trying to put forth,” said Zapata, who chided the mayor’s administration for not immediately telling commissioners it wanted the money for the elections equipment. “I don’t know how this got so complicated and so controversial.”

He and Jordan briefly proposed a compromise proposal — give some money to small businesses, some to parks and some to elections — but that plan went nowhere. Commissioner Dennis Moss then chimed in and suggested board members should divvy up the funds to give more dollars to community-based organizations.

None of the commissioners took up some Miami Herald readers’ idea to return the cash to the Dolphins.