The Biscayne Times

Jul 22nd
To Be, or Not To Be: That Is Cityhood? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Erik Bojnansky -- BT Senior Writer   
June 2013

This is the question facing residents living west of Aventura, and they may soon get a chance to vote on it

NCityhood_1ortheast Miami-Dade civic activists are back at it, asking the question: Should we band together and create a new city?

Known collectively as a Municipal Advisory Committee, the volunteers hope to meet this month to discuss a much more detailed plan -- including a proposed $9.9 million budget -- for incorporating an area of subdivisions, condominiums, apartments, and at least one trailer park, forming themselves into a municipality.

The next step for committee members: decide whether to push for a referendum on cityhood for the 3.3-square-mile region of some 18,000 people, wedged between I-95 on the west, Aventura on the east, North Miami Beach to the south, and Broward County to the north. If they decide to hold a vote, and the Miami-Dade County Commission gives its blessing, a special election would be scheduled for all eligible people living in Highland Lakes, Highland Gardens, Coventry, Enchanted Lake, Sparling Lake, Greyknoll Lake, Oak Forest, Ojus, most of Sky Lake, and several private, gated communities.

Or the committee could, once again, invite Aventura to annex them.

Or committee members could simply allow Miami-Dade County to continue providing services.

Or the county could halt the incorporation altogether.

Or, as some cityhood advocates fear, North Miami Beach could seize the moment and annex prime commercial areas, rich with coveted tax revenue.

Despite area residents debating this issue for a decade, few things are certain today -- even a name for the nascent city. Back in 2005, an earlier incarnation of the Municipal Advisory Committee (MAC) was close to scheduling a referendum, but county leaders stalled the process. A formal countywide moratorium on creating new cities was established in 2007. Then the moratorium was lifted in November 2012. One month later, a revived northeast Miami-Dade MAC held its first meeting in nearly eight years.

Cityhood_2At issue are taxes and services. Advocates of incorporation believe the area has the tax base to provide enhanced services like police and code enforcement. Status-quo advocates fear cityhood will mean higher property taxes and fees.

The least popular option: being annexed by North Miami Beach. That city charges property owners $7.64 per $1000 of assessed value for services and debt on bonds. Property owners in unincorporated Miami-Dade pay just $1.93 per $1000 for services.

The most popular option: being annexed by Aventura. Renowned for its excellent services, Aventura has the lowest tax rate in Miami-Dade County -- just $1.73 per $1000 of assessed value.

So far Aventura has rejected the notion of annexing any of the communities to its west. Ken Friedman, chairman of the Northeast Miami-Dade Municipal Advisory Committee and a strong advocate of cityhood, thinks Aventura’s attitude will change when new officials are elected there. “But do we want to sit around for two years waiting?” asks Friedman, a Highland Gardens resident. “If we incorporated now, we would be open to unincorporating and merging with Aventura later. I’d be totally open-minded to that concept.”

But Skylake resident Alicia Rook questions the motivation of Friedman and other cityhood supporters. “It’s unnecessary,” Rook says flatly. “We have all of our services, especially the Miami-Dade Police Department, which is one of the best in the country. Dade does the garbage pickup. So why another level of government?”

Cityhood_3Because the region will be able to control its destiny, pay for even more police protection, and enhance its appearance, answers Glenn Gopman, another Skylake resident who serves on the MAC. “We have more than enough money for a city manager, a city finance director, a city clerk, commissioners -- whatever costs are involved,” he says.

Indeed, a recent financial analysis of unincorporated northeast Miami-Dade by the county’s Office of Management and Budget, which oversees annexations, reveals that the area has a combined assessed property value of more than $1 billion. A new city would collect $1.9 million in property taxes at its current millage rate. Another $8 million in fees, fines, and taxes currently being collected would flow into city coffers instead of being siphoned off by the county.

With those funds, the new city could spend $5.6 million on a  police department, $491,000 for a building and planning department, $400,000 for public works, $500,000 for a parks department, $400,000 for a city council and city manager, $300,000 for a city attorney, $300,000 for a city clerk, and $500,000 for an emergency reserve fund.

Friedman emphasizes that these figures are preliminary. He also believes the county is being too conservative in its estimate of property values, particularly in the Ojus area along W. Dixie Highway. Friedman says there is plenty of room along West Dixie for enterprising developers to build new projects.

While his fellow committee members ponder just what can be done with an annual budget of $9.1 million, Friedman has something else on his mind: the Shops at Skylake on Miami Gardens Drive, which sits in unincorporated Miami-Dade County and which would be a tax-generating prize for any municipality. “North Miami Beach officials,” Friedman warns, “would love to get the Skylake Mall into their city, but that’s a major revenue source for our new city.”

North Miami Beach Mayor George Vallejo does nothing to dispel Friedman’s fears. “As far as Skylake shops, I think it makes far more sense for the mall to be part of North Miami Beach,” he declares. After all, parts of the Skylake neighborhood and Miami Gardens Drive fall within NMB’s weirdly shaped northern boundaries.

Vallejo denies that his city is “actively” seeking to annex the Shops at Skylake. “However, we are monitoring the situation to make sure common-sense borders are drawn,” he says. “Our area can’t afford more gerrymandered city limits that make it difficult for proper delivery of police, fire, and other essential services.”

Then, with a rhetorical flourish sure to rankle Friedman and his cityhood allies, Mayor Vallejo adds, “Any new municipality, or annexation for that matter, should benefit the residents and businesses affected, and not just be about the political ambitions of a small group of people.”


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