Miami Beach is seeking input from residents as the city mulls hundreds of million of dollars in government spending to pay for public projects aimed at preparing for sea level rise, repairing aging infrastructure and improving public safety.
The city is considering a referendum on the November ballot asking voters to authorize a general obligation bond that would likely fund between $300 million and $500 million in projects. City officials say the bond could pay for big ticket items — like new fire stations and above-ground construction associated with stormwater and sewer projects — that Miami Beach would otherwise have a hard time funding. But the bond would also increase property taxes, which could prove a hard sell in a city known for its expensive beachfront real estate.
The price tag and list of projects have yet to be finalized. Beginning this week, Miami Beach is hosting public meetings for residents to discuss which projects they think should be included. Residents will be asked to rank potential projects and propose new ones at four meetings held between May 17 and June 9. They can also share feedback online.
"It's your money, it's your votes and you're our residents and we're not going to be making a decision without you," Mayor Dan Gelber told residents last week at a panel hosted by Miami Beach United. He vowed to make the process of selecting projects "the most transparent process you could imagine."
Legally, the bond could be used to fund a range of what the city's chief financial officer described as "brick and mortar costs" — things like parks and public facilities. Last month, city staff presented a $1.1 billion wish list to the Miami Beach commission, which cut the list to roughly $700 million. Potential projects include a new $13 million park at the site of the former Par 3 Golf Course in South Beach; $10 million to replace the city's public safety radio system; and $12 million for protected bike lanes and shared bike and pedestrian paths.
"Not only is it an investment in our future, it's potentially an opportunity to enhance our quality of life and do good for the community," Commissioner Mark Samuelian said during the panel discussion.
The total amount could end up being a point of contention. While some commissioners have indicated that they would be open to supporting a bond on the higher end of the $300-$500 million range, others want a more restricted program. Commissioner Michael Góngora wants Miami Beach to limit the bond to essential projects for which other funding isn't available.
"Clearly there are projects that need funding for which we don't have adequate funding currently," he said. "However, I'm concerned that the city might just look to fund every project whether it's urgent, critical or otherwise needed."
It's unclear how much the proposed bond could end up costing taxpayers.
The debt, which would be paid back over 30 years through property taxes, won't be taken on all at once in order to minimize the tax hike, CFO John Woodruff said. Commercial property owners and residents with the most expensive homes will likely be the most affected, but the city won't have a concrete estimate on property tax increases until late July or early August, Woodruff said. As a rough, high-end estimate, Samuelian said property owners might see an extra $100 a year in property taxes for every $100,000 in tax-assessed value.
Although Miami Beach is still paying off its debt from a previous 30-year bond program that voters approved in 1999, the city is likely in a better position than many in Florida to take on debt.
Last year, bond rating agency Moody’s said in a report that failing to address the risk of sea level rise could hurt municipal and government credit scores. Miami Beach already has a $500 million program to elevate streets and install pump systems to prepare for rising seas.
Miami Beach also has a good credit rating — AA+ — and Woodruff said the city would likely be able to take advantage of low interest rates.
Residents at last week's panel seemed mostly concerned about oversight of the bond program and potential tax increases. City officials said Miami Beach would likely form an oversight committee and that residents would also be able to track the progress of bond-funded projects online.
If the City Commission votes to place the bond on the ballot, residents will get the final say on Nov. 6.
Miami Beach's GO bond meetings will be held:
Thursday, May 17 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., Miami Beach JCC, 4221 Pine Tree Dr., Miami Beach
Monday, May 21 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., UNIDAD Senior Center, 7251 Collins Ave., Miami Beach
Tuesday, May 22 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., New World Symphony, 511 17th St., Miami Beach
Saturday, June 9 from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m., UNIDAD Senior Center, 7251 Collins Ave., Miami Beach