Council debates cost for Optimist Park overhaul

Thursday, June 6, 2019 0 Comments

The rising costs for a major overhaul at Miami Lakes Optimist Park became the centerpiece of a fierce debate between council members and residents who vehemently disagreed with a rumored price tag as high as $17 million to complete the park’s master plan.
The original cost of $4.5 million was too expensive for residents, who were left mulling if Miami Lakes would float a bond referendum to finance the town’s oldest and decrepit park and raise their taxes.
During one workshop, the costs reportedly increased to $8.5 million including creating the new designs for the park and a rise in construction costs, which was not acceptable to residents, and $17 million discussed at a later workshop sent residents through the roof.
But Town Manager Edward Pidermann said $17 million was not an accurate amount and Deputy Town Manager Tony Lopez, Miami Lakes former parks and recreation director, also disagreed with the costs for the park’s major improvements.
The Miami Lakes Optimist Park master plan includes new tennis courts, basketball courts with an airnasium, baseball and softball fields, dug outs, battling cages, bike and walking paths and a new lighting and irrigation system.
At the May 14 regular Miami Lakes Town Council meeting, lawmakers approved Councilmember Luis Collazo’s proposal to allow town staff to resume offering council members and residents a menu of options with different price tags.
From there, council members and residents can eliminate some improvement projects costs to reflect the original $4.5 million price tag.
“Options should also include short term debt versus long term debt, build the park all at once versus phases approach,” Collazo said. “The options would further advance talks to make some decisions in making the improvements to the park.”
Collazo said current and past council members are united for the park’s major overhaul but they also sharply divided on how much to spend on the master plan.
“At one workshop, when discussing our strategic plan, the costs for the upgrades were $4.5 million,” Collzao said. “At another meeting a month ago, it was $8 million. The $17 million was not what residents claimed it to be. If it’s $8 million, that can be further reduced.”
Collazo, who grew up in Miami Lakes and played at the park as a member of the Miami Lakes Optimist Club, said the recreation facility is an essential part of the community.
“I went to schools in Miami Lakes and I’m a product of the Optimist Club,” he said. “With residents’ phone calls and emails, not one of them said leave the park the way it is. They want to know what options do we have.”
The different costs estimates ruffled some residents’ feathers who are fiscally conservative when it comes to their tax dollars.
Though she supports the park’s improvements, Councilmember Marilyn Ruano said the proposed price tags were too high.
“I’m not in favor of $17 million, and $4 million gave me a little heartburn,” she said. “When I ran for office, I promised to be fiscally conservative for our residents.”
Ruano said one of the options should include the original price tag.
“One menu of options should say this is what I can get for $4.5 million,” she said. “The public has the right to know the right numbers for the park.”
Miami Lakes community activist Maria Kramer accused council members of hiding the true figures for the park’s improvements.
“When I attended a workshop it was $5.6 million for the park, then at another workshop it was $17 million,” she said. “I don’t support anything this administration does because you are not honest. I support the progress but progress that is done fiscally conservative.”
Councilmember Jeffrey Rodriguez said the park’s cost estimates would be much clearer when town staff completes its analysis and offers residents a host of options.
“We have shown we want to do the park,” he said. “Let town staff do their jobs and they will determine how much it would cost. This is what we can do to reduce it or should we do a bond? Let them come to us and once we have the information we can say cut here and cut there.”
Councilmember Carlos Alvarez said the town shouldn’t identify the park’s priorities until a new agreement is reached with the Miami-Dade County Public Schools which owns 70 percent of the property near Miami Lakes Middle School.
“Once we can do that, we can do things in phases,” he said.
Pidermann said the joint use agreement with the school board spells out all of the parameters of sharing this space and more importantly the length of time that this agreement would be in effect. The town is insisting on a long term agreement in order to spend millions of dollars.
Mayor Manny Cid, who was the only no vote for Collzao’s proposal because he favors a different design presented at the workshop agreed with Alvarez.
“We are not going to make a decision until the school board deal is done,” he said.
Miami Lakes’ first mayor, Wayne Slaton, said the town secured half of the costs for the park’s master plan when he left office in 2008.
“The park should’ve been developed by 2012,” he said. “And here we are in 2019, and we still don’t have it.”
Slaton said the main goal for incorporation for Miami Lakes, Doral, Palmetto Bay and Miami Gardens in the early 2000s was to render better municipal services than Miami-Dade County government, especially for parks and recreation.
He said Miami Lakes is the only city left without a state-of-the art facility.
“Miami Lakes Optimist Park was the biggest facility the county had to maintain,” he said. “But we couldn’t have the state-of-the-town park that Miami Lakes deserves.”
Miami Lakes residents overwhelmingly defeated a straw ballot following incorporation which would’ve allowed the town to borrow money to finance the park’s master plan.
The town had to reply on the pay-as-you go plan which delayed the project for 15 years.
Doral Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez, who was a guest at the council meeting, said a national study suggested property values go up because of good parks.
“When we first started we were worse off than Miami Lakes,” he said. “Now we have good parks in Doral. Parks need to be kept up and improved.”
In other Town Council news:
• Council members gave their final approval for an ordinance which now permits decks in the street side yard setback of RU-1Z corner lots providing for a minimum setback of three feet and to allow up to 60 percent of the required yards of such lots to be impervious.
• Council members gave their initial approval for an ordinance to adopt its own franchise agreement with FPL for a 30 year period.
The effective date of the ordinance should be the termination date of Miami-Dade’s current agreement with FPL (May 25, 2020) or an earlier date if the town is able to prematurely terminate its interlocal with the county prior to May 25, 2020.
The town is expected to receive about $2.3 million in the first year of the new FPL agreement, the ordinance says.
According to the ordinance, the average residence in Miami Lakes (consuming 1000 kWh per month) will experience an average increase of $3.19 in their monthly electrical bill.
• Council members approved a resolution which authorizes the town manager to apply for an FDOT public transit service development program grant for Miami Lakes’ Freebee public transit service expansion project in an amount not to exceed $172,000 per year for 2021, 2022 and 2023, totaling $516,000.
• Council members approved an agreement with Miami-Dad County Public Schools to provide senior high students with an Academic School Year Internship with Miami Lakes starting in the fall 2019 school year.
• Lawmakers approved Alvarez’s proposal to place safety signals in pedestrian crosswalks on Montrose Road where many residents walk, jog and ride their bike to Miami Lakes Picnic Park West. The safety signals would be ideal for drivers on that road to be alerted when pedestrians are crossing the street. Town staff will bring back a proposal and costs estimates at a future council meeting.
• Lawmakers approved Collazo’s proposal to explore Coral Gables’ approach to treat the cause of the staining produced by Black Olive trees to determine if it would be a good practice for Miami Lakes’ effort to protect Black Olive trees throughout the town.
• Manny Cid deferred his proposal to eliminate the port potties and install the proper bathrooms for the outdoor fields at Miami Lakes Optimist Park. Royal Oaks Park and Miami Lakes Picnic Park West have indoor bathroom facilities but the town’s oldest park doesn’t.
The town would have to enter into an agreement with Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Cid said installing the new bathrooms would cost the town an estimated $500,000. But council members would rather wait until the agreement with the schools is complete.
Please login or register to post comments.

Theme picker