North Miami - NMB

Miami-Dade County to Eastern Shores residents: We ran out of money for new guardhouses

Residents in the posh Eastern Shores neighborhood of North Miami Beach are unhappy with their “skimpy” gatehouse entrances.

“The neighborhood was changing with these huge multimillion dollar homes and the guard gates looked scrawny,” said Chuck Asarnow, president of the Eastern Shores Property Association.

But now residents are furious about the money they thought they had to replace their modest gatehouses. The ire of their discontent is falling smack on the team at the Special Taxing Division of the Miami-Dade County Public Works and Waste Management Department.

At a March 24 public town hall meeting, tensions came to a boiling point when officials from the taxing division told residents that funds to pay for improvements had been used up.

Michael Bauman, chief of the Causeways and Special Taxing Division, told the Miami Herald that surplus funds were spent when the residents were mistakenly undercharged for their fees a year earlier. Bauman said the “financial issue” occurred when the fees for FY 2013-14 were decreased about 50% — a mistake that Bauman said has been rectified.

“Overall, the oversight of the division has been strengthened. Administrative officers have been added. The accounting function has been taken over by the comptroller’s office,” Bauman said.

“These people are the A team, all right, A for a---holes,” Asarnow said. “The county broke a pledge they made to the residents of the city.”

Special taxing divisions were set up to help provide public improvement and special services. Miami-Dade has 886 street lighting districts, 117 multipurpose districts and 44 districts for security guards.

For years, Eastern Shores residents paid an assessment to maintain services for the two gatehouse entrances — on Northeast 164th Street and 35th Avenue. Through an interlocal agreement, the city administered the services for the county but didn’t use all the allotted funds.

By 2013, Eastern Shores had amassed about $250,000 in surplus funds to be used for capital improvements. After many discussions and meetings, plans were made to spend about $183,000 to demolish and build a new gatehouse at the Northeast 164th Street entrance. For the entrance at Northeast 35th Avenue, residents wanted two side-by-side arches, something that would mimic the gatehouse at the nearby Golden Beach community. The estimated cost to build it was about $170,000. Currently, the plans are still in the design and permitting stage.

“At the time of the decrease, I thought it was to offset the surplus we had accumulated. Now the county is asking for increases to set of the operational deficiencies. I think they have no idea what they’re doing,” said Dave Templer, a former councilman and resident of Eastern Shores.

“It’s sad that this is happening. It’s sad that they think they can get away with this,” said Saul Smukler, an Eastern Shores resident.

Bauman said because services continued as usual at both gatehouses, and the residents were mistakenly billed half as much as was needed, the funds quickly depleted and the surplus funds went to pay for the gap.

For the Northeast 164th Street gatehouse fund (which bills for 129 properties), the yearly fee in previous five years averaged about $1,200. That means property owners were paying about $100 per year while a surplus was accumulating. In FY 2014-15, the fee dropped to $504.46. The county’s new proposed assessment for two years is $1,297.12, which would be about $108 per month.

For the Northeast 35th Avenue entrance, residents had been paying on average about $172 yearly for the past five years. That amount dropped to $84.38 last year. The two-year fee assessment would go back up —to $158.39 yearly.

Follow Patricia Sagastume on Twitter @patsagastume.