Miami Mayor Francis Suarez delivers the 2019 State of the City Address
Back in November, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez suffered a political slap when voters resoundingly rejected the idea of turning him into a “strong mayor.”
They voted down the ballot measure that would have given Suarez’s job more teeth, not to mention a nice raise. More important, it would have made him the city’s top administrator, controller of the city’s budget, giving him the power to select the police and fire chiefs and oversee City Hall’s day-to-day operations.
“I don’t think it was personal,” he told the Miami Herald Editorial Board on Wednesday, explaining the rejection at the polls. “A lot of people were against it, including this Editorial Board.” True.
Flash forward to today, as Suarez prepares for two public hearings in September on the city’s proposed $1.12 billion budget, it appears the mayor has spent the months since the No vote trying harder. It shows — a bit.
Among the budget’s highlights, financed this year or by the Miami Forever Bond:
Miami has the second-lowest mileage rate in 55 years. “We are reducing taxes so our residents can enjoy the city’s success,” Suarez told the board. We know that residents’ pockets will be tapped in other ways, but the low millage rate is a favorable headline for the mayor to tout.
The city is investing $6.4 million on parks and public spaces, though it is dealing with the issue of the high levels of arsenic found at the Melreese Golf Course this week. The course has been shut down for safety reasons. The site is slated to become the new David Beckham soccer stadium. How the negotiations between the city and the Beckham team progress will be a test for Suarez. He’s a big booster of the stadium, but he has to remember that he’s working on Miamians’ behalf. If the public thinks they’re being played, there will be hell to pay.
Homicides and aggravated assaults are down, and the city has a hefty police force of nearly 1,400 officers.
Suarez has allocated $600,000 to erase graffiti from city buildings and $230,000 to bump up code enforcement efforts, both good measures. Probably won’t mollify betrayed residents who live within earshot of the Ultra Music Festival, which is returning to downtown Miami, though.
There are solid projects to confront climate challenges: Two large pumps in the Brickell neighborhood will prevent the flooding that occurred during Hurricane Irma, Suarez says; there is also a project to stop pumped water from flowing back onto the streets.
This mayor gets the serious threat climate change poses. “We have to find a way to make water an asset, not an enemy,” Suarez said.
The mayor is committed to dealing with the city’s affordable and low-income housing shortage, allocating millions to build more units. He also is introducing a unique “Rent Assistance Plan” to help fill the gap for elderly Miami residents who can’t afford rent increases.
This week, the city unveiled a free Liberty City trolley, the city’s 13th route. It took too long to serve one of the neediest areas, but making it a reality now is nonetheless an accomplishment.
Blessed with a solid economy, the city’s proposed 2019-2020 operating budget has the luxury of focusing on innovation, resiliency, prosperity and quality-of-life issues. Although the city faces many challenges, the mayor said he finally grasps the significance of “Miami Forever.”
And it shows.