September Commission Digest
October 22, 2018
Much of the county commission’s activity in September was spent finalizing next year’s budget. By late summer, most parts of the budget were set in stone with the exception of a few items. Standout parts of the budget included a proposed change to the wastewater rate, the Mayor’s proposal to create nine police Priority Response Teams designed to intervene in active shooter incidents, funding for the Affordable Housing Trust, and the addition of two early voting sites to Miami-Dade College’s North and Kendall campuses.
County Budget Matters
There’s been an overall decrease in the county’s water usage, which has left the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department with less money to run its operations. To make up for the loss in revenue, there will be a $3.00 monthly increase to meter charges ($1.20 for water and $1.80 for wastewater) starting October 1st.
One of the Mayor’s major proposed items in next year’s budget included $15 million in funding to create nine Priority Response Teams within the county police department who are trained to respond to active shooter situations. Starting in October, the nine teams will be distributed in many of the unincorporated areas of Miami-Dade county. This budget item remained a core part of the Mayor’s proposed budget following the Parkland shooting.
The Department of Public Housing and Community Development (PHCD), which is responsible for the oversight of the county’s public housing, subsidized rental housing, and home ownership assistance programs received $225 million to both maintain and build new affordable housing units. At the first commission hearing, PHCD Michael Liu informed commissioners that $225 was not enough to meet the housing needs of the community. His comments stem from commissioners decade-long struggle to adequately fund the Affordable Housing Trust, which hasn’t held enough money to build any new projects since its creation in 2007.
At the commission’s final budget hearing, college students, along with organizers from Engage Miami requested that an early voting site be added to Miami Dade College’s campus. The requests came on the heels of Mayor Gimenez’s approval of an early voting site at Florida International University the day before. Ultimately the commission moved to open two early voting sites — one at Miami Dade North and the other on MDC’s Kendall campus with near-unanimous support (Commissioner Joe Martinez was the only ‘no’ vote).
Roads, Traffic and Transportation
Outside the budget hearings, the commission approved a 13 mile extension to 836 into West Kendall on September 27th in a 9-4 vote, with Commissioners Edmonson, Higgins, Suarez, and Cava voting no. Environmental groups and concerned citizens voiced concern about the expressway’s intrusion through wetlands, which help to absorb floodwaters. Proponents of the extension cited that Kendall residents faced hours-long commutes regardless of whether they chose to drive or use public transportation. Commissioners Souto and Sosa proposed friendly amendments designed to mitigate some environmental concerns: planting native vegetation near the highway to attract bees and elevating as many segments as possible to allow for water flow under the structure. Both amendments were accepted.
In response to the lane closures on the MaCarthur Causeway, on September 5th the County Commission voted unanimously 8-0 to suspend tolls for westbound lanes on the Venetian Causeway during rush hours. Commissioners Sosa, Cava, Souto, Martinez, and Bovo, Jr. were absent from the vote.
Changes were adopted on September 5th to the current regulations that will allow salvaged and rebuilt vehicles up to 15 years-old to be put into circulation on privatized county and municipal circulator and fixed service routes. The vote was 9-4 with Commissioners Jordan, Monestime, Higgins, and Cava voting no. County run bus routes that have not been privatized cannot use salvaged and rebuilt vehicles; Commissioners Cava, Jordan, and Monestime spoke at length about their concerns over the disparity this introduces on the privatized routes, along with concerns over safety and quality of service. In response Transit Director Alice Bravo noted that some county buses in service are 18-19 years old (and that 50% of our county buses are over 12 years old).
An ordinance to create a special taxing district in Coral Gables that would pay for a guard house checkpoint was deferred on September 5th because residents were not given proper notice. During public comment some older residents expressed opposition and there were complaints that adequate notice was not given. Other residents spoke in favor and stated that the majority of property owners had signed a petition supporting the guard shack. Commissioner Sosa noted that this would in effect close a public street (there would be a guard gate and everyone would have to stop, but no one could be prevented from entering).
Public Employee Oversight
An ordinance sponsored by Commissioner Jordan to change the name of the Independent Review Panel to the Independent Community Panel and reinstate funding of said panel unanimously passed first reading on September 5th and was set for public hearing. There was considerable public comment in favor of reinstatement, including by local NAACP members. This is not the first time Jordan has attempted to revive the Panel, earlier this year a similar ordinance failed to pass after it was vetoed by the Mayor. The panel was created amid serious complaints of police misconduct in the early 1980s shortly before the Miami riots.
Rebeca Sosa sponsored an item to purchase the Ludlam Trail for $24.5 million and convert the space into a 13-mile park, which passed unanimously. The Trail, which is an abandoned railway near the Miami-Dade airport, will be converted into a bike and walking path without an increase of taxes and will include solar lights.