South Miami

South Miami approves budget, deal with FPL

South Miami city commissioners have approved the city’s 2014-15 budget and a new franchise agreement with Florida Power & Light Co.

“We did some tweaking, but there wasn’t anything major,” City Manager Steven Alexander said after the Sept. 23 decisions. “We only had a couple of changes. That was essentially it, relative to budget changes.”

The budget totals $23.3 million, and the tax rate will be $4.36 per $1,000 of taxable assessed property value.

Meanwhile, after almost 18 months of negotiating with FPL, the city agreed to a 30-year franchise agreement. The ordinance passed 4-1, with Commissioner Gabriel Edmond dissenting, at the commission’s Sept. 16 meeting. The agreement will provide the city more than $30 million over its term, paid on a yearly basis based on electricity sales.

“I don’t like 30-year agreements,” Mayor Philip Stoddard said at the Sept. 16 meeting. “There is not a 30-year agreement I make in my life except for this one.”

FPL and the city had differed on the length of the agreement, with the city basing its rationale on the potential development of alternate energy supplies and technologies over the next 30 years. Alexander previously said it did not “make sense to be tied to a 30-year agreement based on energy coming from the nuclear power plant down at Turkey Point.”

“The danger was if we didn’t get a franchise agreement and didn’t get covered or reimbursed by the county, we would be out substantial amounts of money, maybe even the whole amount,” Alexander said. “The agreement for the franchise guaranteed that those moneys will still be there to come.”

The city has been fighting FPL over plans to erect 80-foot-tall power lines along U.S. 1 from Turkey Point to Miami, and commissioners approved the franchise deal reluctantly.

“My initial feeling was that we were being strong-armed by Florida Power & Light,” Vice Mayor Walter Harris said at the Sept. 16 meeting. “The reality is, in 20 years everything we are doing today anyway is going to have to be revised. I will support the 30-year agreement and deal with it when the time comes to deal with it.”

Regarding the budget, the general fund totaled $17.7 million. A citywide parks improvement fund includes $100,000 for a renovation of the Murray Park athletic field, improvements to the Brewer Park tennis and basketball courts, drainage improvement at Dante Fascell Park and a renovation of the historical pavilion at Fuchs Park.

An additional $20,000 was allocated in the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for the 2015-16 fiscal year for a traffic-calming study. The original $1.3 million CIP appropriation was increased by $60,000, including $25,000 freed up for the Underline Project. According to Alexander, the Underline, a 10-mile linear park, is looking for $500,000 from various municipalities in Miami-Dade County, and the county itself, for a master-plan study. The $25,000 allocation will be considered at the next commission meeting.

“I think the way our resolution will read is that only if the $25,000 will be matched by the other cities along the way will ours be used,” Alexander said. “If everybody else doesn’t get in, there won’t be a master plan to be developed.”

The commission unanimously opposed an Aug. 5 resolution to privatize the city’s waste-collection department. Alexander estimated that the move would have meant more than $900,000 in annual savings for the city.

Another major change in the budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which began Wednesday, is the allocation of accumulated surplus funds and sending them into an emergency reserve fund to equal 25 percent of the annual operating budget, based on a recommendation from the Government Finance Officers Association.

“Thanks to our manager and CFO [Alfredo Riverol],” Edmond said at the hearing. “This has been a challenging and difficult budget season. The manager and CFO have worked well under pressure.”