West Kendall

West Kendall city study area may expand

Plans to make a city out of West Kendall have been put on hold by officials, who are now contemplating on where exactly the new city should be.

A committee created by County Commissioner Juan Zapata was studying what incorporation would mean for the area between Southwest Eighth Street and Southwest 88th Street, west of Florida’s Turnpike. But after three meetings of support and pushback in equal measure, Zapata is now suggesting a committee look at a bigger area moving forward — one that would add the area from Southwest 88th Street to Southwest 152nd Street west of the Turnpike.

“Like everything, there are pros and cons, but I want move forward with the study so that neighbors have options,” said Zapata.

The move is the most recent development in the West Kendall incorporation saga.

Before the meetings were put on hold indefinitely, the Municipal Advisory Committee for the northern area was in the early stages of determining what creating an independent community would mean for the 129,000 residents who live in it.

The committee for the southern area had not begun to meet.

One of the central questions is, can the area as a whole afford it?

The answer depends on how high the new city sets its property taxes.

Right now, unincorporated areas pay one of the lowest property-tax rates in the county — $1.93 per $1,000 of the taxable property value of a home.

For other cities that have incorporated in the past, the answer to the question of taxes is a mixed bag.

Palmetto Bay, which became a village in 2002, has a rate of $2.45. Doral, which incorporated in 2003, charges $1.93. Miami Gardens, which also formed in 2003, charges $6.94.

Driving incorporation in many of these cities was residents’ desire for more police attention, especially for nonviolent crimes, and more local control over decisions about land development.

Libby Perez, co-chair of the Municipal Advisory Committee said that these numbers will be key in making a determination.

“We have to wait to be provided with more info from the county budget in order to decide whether it’s a good thing to incorporate,” Perez said.

At the last meeting in June, Zapata said he would provide more information on the economic outlook of incorporating at a future meeting, adding that residents would benefit not only economically, but by getting locally-crafted policies.

But if West Kendall became a city, it could contract with the county for some of its services, such as its own police department. The city would pay for these out of resident’s taxes.

Deborah Lamb, a 43-year who lives in the area, said she wouldn’t want to pay more in taxes for services that the county already provides.

“It’s all about the money,” said Lamb, who is also opposed to bringing in a new set of elected officials. “Why should we pay for a mayor when we already have a county mayor? I’m not in favor of another layer of government.”

Niels Damman, 36, who has lived in the West Kendall area since November, said he would like more information before deciding if he is either in favor or against incorporation but added that he would like to see more of his taxes go into local amenities, such as playgrounds and parks.

“Incorporation might help with that,” said Damman, a student at Florida International University and father of two children, ages 3 and 4.

Lawrence Percival, who serves as president of the Greater Kendall Community Activists, said many people opposed to forming a city in West Kendall are uninformed.

“If we incorporate, there will be more resources for the area,” Percival said, adding that any tax increases after incorporating will be decided by a council with public input. “If people want more services like have more police officers in the city, then they can decide if that’s what they want to do.”

County officials are classifying the area of West Kendall as a donor community, or one whose residents pay more in taxes than is invested in the same area. In theory, the surplus is distributed to other areas with lower property values.

Ingrid Gonzalez, aid to Commissioner Zapata, said most residents in the West Kendall area are paying for amenities they do not directly benefit from.

“Ninety percent of cultural affairs happen in East Dade,” Gonzalez said. “But, people in West Kendall are paying for these services and not seeing much out of it. If a city is incorporated, then that money is allocated within that city.”