Miami Gardens - Opa-locka

Opa-locka approves leasing Jackson Health building for $1 a year; accepts financial audit

A vacant building on three acres in Opa-locka will finally get new life: The city’s health and wellness center is moving in.

At a special meeting Monday morning, city commissioners unanimously approved signing the lease with Miami-Dade County to rent the 165,000-square-foot building and surrounding lots at 14701 NW 27th Ave.

Opa-locka Mayor Myra Taylor said she had doubts the deal would be worked out, but “the Lord brought it down.”

Rent will be $1 every year for the next three decades for the former Jackson North property.

Jackson’s Public Health Trust Board fully supported the city’s decision.

In a memo dated June 23, Carlos Migoya, president and CEO of Jackson Health wrote: “Jackson has not operated this facility in many years, and we would not be able to redevelop it in the face of so many competing strategic priorities. It is clearly the best interest of our taxpayer-owners for this site to receive the focused attention envisioned by the civic and medical leaders who have championed this plan.”

Word of the healthcare center comes nearly six months after Taylor expressed intentions to bring some type of healthcare center to town in her state of the city address. She had not spoken of the initiative again until now.

According to city sources, Taylor and Commissioner Joseph Kelley had been working to secure the area to renovate it for nearly two years. They wanted to make space active again to “provide support for the community and create jobs,” Assistant City Manager David Chiverton said.

Then in June, the initiative found necessary support and some extra funding to cut the costs of the lease from the county commission. Almost coincidentally, a $3 million targeted urban area grant had become available after another project was disqualified from receiving it.

“This all fell into our laps very nicely with the site and some infrastructure funding,” Miami-Dade County Commissioner Xavier Suarez said of the city’s project.

Suarez added that Taylor’s plan for the property also aligned itself with a countywide initiative to decentralize primary care facilities.

“Some other commissioners are saying they don’t have enough healthcare facilities in their district,” Suarez said. “This will hopefully set a pattern for other parts of the county.”

The next steps, according to city officials, will be to create a time line for renovation and continue to leverage support from the Jackson Health Trust to ensure the facility’s compliance as an urgent care clinic.

“Kudos to Mayor Taylor for leadership in this wellness center,” Opa-locka resident Dante Starks said. “You deserve a great round of applause along with Commissioner Kelley and this commission. You did an awesome job.”

In other business

Opa-locka unanimously approved accepting an audited financial statement for the city’s 2013-14 fiscal year. The report showed signs that the city’s financial hardships have been around longer than just this year.

“Staff is not being held accountable for budget, and there is no monitoring of the budget to actual expenditures,” said Roderick Harvey, a certified public accountant who has reviewed the city’s finances since 2005, during the meeting.

According to his report, Opa-locka’s revenue and expenditures did not match up, instead they were nearly $3 million apart. Commissioners only had questions.

“Why in your professional opinion is that happening? Is it deficiencies of the department or we’re not budgeting correctly?” Commissioner Terence Pinder said. “Is this a trend or is this practice?”

Department directors are not matching up what is projected to what is expected on a monthly basis, Harvey said about the audit.

It’s a trend, he added.

The city accepted the audit but aimed to make citywide financial information available earlier for this year’s audit. Opa-locka met the latest deadline possible to submit the report to the state.

“Things of magnitude such as this should not be last minute,” Kelley said. “We’re under the gun. I’m going to work on legislation so that this doesn’t come up again.”