Miami-Dade County

Miami releases details of $275 million bond initiative ahead of key vote

A proposed bond initiative to be weighed Friday by Miami commissioners includes $37 million to renovate the Miami Marine Stadium.
A proposed bond initiative to be weighed Friday by Miami commissioners includes $37 million to renovate the Miami Marine Stadium. MIAMI HERALD

New radios for Miami police and firefighters would replace unreliable equipment. Pump stations would be installed or upgraded in flood-prone neighborhoods. And a series of parks and community centers across the city would receive millions in upgrades if voters approve a $275 million general obligation bond initiative this fall.

But before the referendum can make it onto the ballot in November, Miami commissioners must decide Friday whether they’ll support the proposal from Mayor Tomás Regalado’s administration. Commissioners only received a list of 134 projects to be funded about two weeks ago.

“It’s been hastily prepared,” said Commissioner Francis Suarez. “The administration constructed this themselves essentially with little or no input from commissioners, at least little or none from me.”

Among the proposed projects:

▪ $26 million to replace an emergency radio system that according to police and firefighters is outdated and sometimes leaves them unable to communicate.

▪ $30 million for new and improved pump stations in Shorecrest, Edgewater, Morningside and other neighborhoods as Miami tries to hold off rising seas.

▪ $20 million to fund dozens of roadway improvements across the city

▪ $20 million to create a pot of incentives to encourage developers to build “workforce housing” affordable to the lower-middle class

“This is about the next generation,” Regalado said. “This is about public safety. And I really think sea-level rise is a huge deal.”

It’s been hastily prepared

Commissioner Francis Suarez

The bond initiative, which according to City Manager Daniel Alfonso coincides with rising credit ratings and declining debt, also includes $18.5 million for improvements at the Little Haiti Cultural Center, Charles Hadley Park, Curtis Park and the Belafonte Tacolcy Center, among other parks facilities. The city has also added renovations to the Olympia and Manuel Artime theaters to a list of big-ticket items previously reported by the Miami Herald, including $48 million for urban parks like the Ludlam Trail, Plan Z and Underline, as well as Marine Stadium renovations.

“Nothing is set in stone but it definitely touches on a bunch of important issues,” said Commission Chairman Keon Hardemon.

This is about the next generation

Mayor Tomás Regalado

But general obligation bond initiatives are often touchy because the debt is leveraged with property taxes. The legislation before commissioners includes a restriction that the bond initiative can’t force the city’s debt service tax rate to climb any higher from where it will be set this October, but the flip-side is that taxpayers won’t reap the savings as old debt comes off the books.

“I’m still reviewing all the items. We’ve had about a week to look at it and it’s a lot that’s been presented to us,” said Commissioner Frank Carollo.

Suarez said there are other ways to fund some of the proposed projects, for instance through bonds that don’t tap into property taxes or through contracts with the private sector. Commissioner Ken Russell said he has some hesitancy about the way the administration has publicized the bond referendum.

“I’m very excited about seeing the projects in this bond and I advocate for a lot of them,” he said. “However, I'm not happy with the way this has been rolled out to the public and their involvement and inclusion with the process.”

Alfonso said the proposed projects aren’t set in stone, and as with any Miami bond initiative will be reviewed by an oversight board created in 2001, the last time voters approved a bond referendum for the city. He also noted that the city would have more than three months to discuss the proposed projects with the public before the November election.

“This is not an end-all-be-all list,” he said.