Council places term limits extension on ballot

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 0 Comments


Facing a possible $1.5 million budget deficit and needing additional resource police officers at local schools to shield students and teachers from gun violence, the Town of Miami Lakes has turned to an electrical franchise fee increase which may be applied to residents’ FPL bill. 

But constituents will have the final approval for a proposed rate of 4.6 percent, as part of a new franchise agreement with the utility company, during a non-binding referendum in November.  

Miami Lakes is crafting its own franchise agreement with FPL, which takes effect in 2020, the year the utility’s accord with Miami-Dade County expires.

Cities that incorporated after 1990 were banned from developing their own franchise agreement until 2020. 

According to the agreement, Miami Lakes initially chose the 3.6 percent rate instead of the existing 3.1 percent of FPL’s bill revenues from the sale of electrical energy to residential, commercial and industrial customers within the town’s boundaries.

Council members indicated most residents were unaware they currently pay the fee, which is inscribed on their FPL bill.

Over the last ten years, Miami Lakes has seen its franchise revenues reduced from $2 million to $966,000 and the proposed higher rate can offset a budget shortfall the town may experience with the rising costs of police services and a possible additional $25,000 homestead exemption for the next fiscal year.

Though a vote for the FPL agreement was postponed at the March 6 Town Council meeting, lawmakers unanimously approved Councilmember Ceasar Mestre’s recommendation to allow residents to have the final say on the tax hike.

“I feel a lot more comfortable putting the question on the ballot,” Mestre said. “Personally, I have an issue passing a fee on to residents who are not even aware of it.”

The 4.6 percent rate, which Mayor Manny Cid suggested, balances the budget with a possible surplus and $500,000 would be earmarked for more additional resource police officers at the town’s six schools in response to the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting massacre that took the lives of 17 students and teachers last month.

“Do I like it? No,” Cid said of the proposed tax hike. “I’m 100 percent in favor of keeping it flat but I’m okay with 4.6 percent with $500,000 for resource officers at our public schools on a daily basis.”

Councilmember Nelson Rodriguez said Miami Lakes must fill the gaps in the budget to resume furnishing top-tier services in the future.

“We need to look at the big picture, we have serious budget gaps here,” he said. “What is going to happen to our town?”

Rodriguez supports the rate increase to pay for additional resource police officers at the town’s schools. “Some schools are left unprotected,” said Rodriguez, who requested a Schools Safety and Security Bill to provide two school resource officers at each school campus in Florida in the wake of the Parkland school shooting tragedy.

Most council members reluctantly supported the electrical tax increase to save the town’s budget but felt relieved over residents choosing whether they want the new fee during Miami Lakes’ November election.

If approved, Mestre said the new fee is unfair to the town’s businesses since they would carry the brunt of the increment. 

“What about our businesses?” Mestre asked. “We are a business-friendly town.”

Armando Fernandez, a FPL representative, said nine Miami-Dade cities, which incorporated after 1990, are umbrella municipalities under the county’s agreement, while the older cities have their own franchise agreement.

He said the town’s agreement can cover the growing demand for more energy with a rate increase. “It’s similar to what other cities have,” he said.

Town Manager Alex Rey underscored the significance of franchise fees along with communications and gas taxes, which kept the town from insolvency during the housing crisis in 2008.

He said the town generates about $7 million in property taxes and $10 million in franchise fees and taxes, but the town can’t rely solely on ad valorem revenues to run the town.

“In 2008, we had a 30 percent reduction in property taxes, and we would’ve went bankrupt had we depended on one single revenue,” he said. 

Since the school shooting massacre, the town has been scrambling with funding to protect students, teachers and administrations from gun violence, but Governor Rick Scott and state lawmakers earmarked $400,000 million that includes more resource police officers at each school in Florida.

Vice Mayor Frank Mingo, who’s running for State Representative, said the town shouldn’t rush to propose a higher franchise rate since the FPL agreement doesn’t take effect until 2020, and leave the funding for resource officers to the state.

“The resource officers are the responsibility at the state level,” Mingo said. “Let’s see how the $400,000 million plays out for more resource officers.”

But Cid disagreed.

“Our services are the highest level and parents expect officers to be at the schools,” he said. “Regardless of what the state does, our bucks stop here.” 

In other Town Council news:

ª Council members approved Mestre’s proposal for a charter amendment in November to extend council members’ term limits from 8 to 12 years.

Mestre, whose is term limited in November along with Councilmember Tim Daubert, said the charter change would take effect in 2020 if residents approve his idea.

“This would be  for the future and not for myself,” he said. “Eight years is not enough time, which has flown by quickly, and 12 years would benefit the council with experience.”

Cid supports term limits and agreed with Mestre on letting residents decide how long lawmakers should stay in political office.

As a legislative aide in Tallahassee, Cid said he has seen lobbyists and staff take over state affairs when term limits were not in place in 2006.

Regardless, Cid said residents have a chance to vote “you” out of office and used his experience as an example.

“I beat two incumbents who were the founding members of the Town Council,” said Cid, referring to former Councilwoman Mary Collins and former Mayor Michael Pizzi. “I beat two incumbents because I felt I could do a better job.”

Councilmember Luis Collazo cast the sole dissenting vote on asking residents to extend term limits.

“Term limits help fuel the council with new people with new blood and fresh ideas,” he said.

• Council members gave their final approval for an ordinance to allow a developer, Alari Holding, to rezone its property to erect low density residential and office buildings in an area at 14575  N.W. 77 Avenue , that is an irregularly shaped and undeveloped lot consisting of there parcels, much of which is encumbered by easements owned by FPL.

FPL has transmission lines that traverse over 80 percent of the land, which is about 2.07 acres.

Council members subsequently approved a resolution to approve the developer’s variances and site plan to erect a new three-story office building on the property.

The applicant has received the appropriate release to locate the parking within the FPL easement areas, and the remaining balance of buildable area is limited to less than 12,000 square feet. The developer also voluntarily proffered a restrictive covenant in the town’s favor prohibiting residential use of the property.

* Council members, on first reading, approved an ordinance which sets the qualifications for candidates who are applying for the town manager’s position.

The Miami Lakes Town Manager Selection Advisory Board will review a field of candidates and narrow the list down to seven applicants for the Town Council to interview and determine the best person for the job.

Lawmakers also approved a resolution for advertising the position in local, trade and professional newspapers and social media.

Candidates expressing an interest in the town manager’s position must hold a Bachelor’s degree in public administration, business administration, finance and budgeting or a related field from an accredited college or university; have five years of senior administrative experience with local government or the private sector; operate a budget of over $15 million; and must be bilingual.

The town manager will oversee a $19.7 million budget, 45 full-time employees and 34 part-time employees, and hire and fire staff members.

Council members are hoping to pick a town manager this year to replace Alex Rey, who’s retiring to take advantage of the government DROP Program.

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