Miami Beach

Sea walls, parks, and new fire stations: Here’s Miami Beach’s $500 million wish list

The Miami Beach Fire Department faces allegations of nepotism in selecting this year’s recruit class.
The Miami Beach Fire Department faces allegations of nepotism in selecting this year’s recruit class. Miami Herald archive

Miami Beach is finalizing a list of public projects aimed at preparing for sea level rise, repairing aging infrastructure and improving public safety that the city hopes to fund through a general obligation bond put to voters on the November ballot.

After weeks of meetings and public input, an advisory panel made up of Miami Beach residents has whittled a $700 million wish list down to between $300 and $500 million in projects. The recommendations include new fire stations and a new police radio system, millions for above-ground construction associated with storm water and sewer projects, and a range of park and beach improvements. The panel also recommended earmarking $13 million to repair sidewalks, $15 million to pave streets and $10 million for sea walls and shoreline projects.

“We were very thoughtful about how we came up with this list,” said Karen Rivo, the panel chair, as she presented the recommendations to the City Commission on Tuesday. “I think it represents a lot of aspects of the quality of life of our city. It addresses resiliency, environmental issues.”

The debt would be paid back over 30 years through property taxes. It will ultimately be up to voters to decide whether they’re willing to pay higher taxes in order to fund the infrastructure, security and park improvements. Property owners might pay an extra $60 to $100 a year for every $100,000 in tax-assessed value, depending on the final amount of the bond, according to a rough estimate from the city’s finance department.

The bond still has to pass several hurdles before it’s placed on the Nov. 6 ballot. Commissioners will consider the advisory panel’s recommendations on Friday and go through the proposed projects in more detail before voting on a final list and dollar amount at the July 25 commission meeting.

Some Miami Beach residents and officials have questioned whether the city is moving too quickly as it races to finalize the list in time for the November election. In order to meet the county deadline to put measures on the 2018 ballot, the City Commission has to vote on the bond at its July 25 meeting.

Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez said she thinks the city should wait. She wants to see a comprehensive storm water and resiliency plan, for which Miami Beach plans to solicit bids at the end of July, before deciding on the city’s needs. “This really is putting the cart before the horse in terms of planning,” she said.

But Mayor Dan Gelber said that the city will be able to make changes to the proposed projects in the future if new information comes to light or other factors, like a hurricane, change the city’s needs.

“Because you’re planning for 20 years, to a certain extent you have to assume that some of the things that you’re planning for you may not actually know exactly how it’s going to happen the day you do the GO bond,” he said. “I think what we want to do is give [voters] the current knowledge, the most informed presentation, so they can vote on it based on that.”

Miami Beach held a series of public meetings in May and June to get input from residents. The city also asked residents to complete an online survey and received at least 500 responses. Then the advisory panel, whose members were appointed by Gelber, met in June and July to prioritize projects based on a number of factors including the level of public support, the citywide impact, and whether the proposals addressed safety or resiliency needs or improved the quality of life on the island.

The final recommendations are grouped into three lists of between 32 and 37 projects so commissioners can choose whether they want to support a $353 million, $398 million or $444 million bond. A few big-ticket items on all three lists include a new $15.7 million park at the site of the former Par 3 Golf Course in South Beach, which may include wetlands with aquatic plants to help naturally treat storm water; $53.8 million for a 72nd Street park, library and aquatic center in North Beach; and $10.5 million for the beachwalk in Mid-Beach, a bike-friendly pathway near the shoreline.

Commissioner Ricky Arriola said he believes Miami Beach can’t afford not to move forward with the general obligation bond.

“It’s critical that we always think about: What is the cost of doing nothing? If we don’t do a GO bond what would the future of Miami Beach look like? And I don’t like that thought,” he said. “We have a number of very important infrastructure projects that we need to fund involving safety and just quality of life in terms of the parks and things like that that need funding. The community has been begging us for these.”

Contact Kyra Gurney at 305-376-3205 and @KyraGurney
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