Councilmembers hesitant about $1 mil loan for Optimist Park

Wednesday, August 30, 2017 0 Comments

Miami Lakes is proposing to borrow up to $1 million to complete the master plan for Miami Lakes Optimist Park, instead of using the pay-as-you-go method, as more residents are becoming equally frustrated over the park’s conditions and traveling to Weston, Doral and Pembroke Pines to use their parks and recreation facilities.    

But some council members stopped short of committing to taking out a loan, and one lawmaker vehemently opposes borrowing even less money to fund the master plan for the town’s oldest park.  

Lawmakers gave residents a preview of the town’s budget hearings in September, as town staff outlined a new capital improvement projects plan during a workshop on August 25.
Following Councilmember Tim Daubert’s vent over the decade-long delay for completing the renovations at the park in July, Miami Lakes turned its focus on the large green recreation area, which was built in 1970.

Once finished, Miami Lakes Optimist Park would mirror the state-of-the art recreational facilities in Doral and Weston, hoping to win back town residents who have been waiting years for a new park. 

The Miami Lakes Optimist Club house is the only new facility on the property, near 6425 Miami Lakeway North, but the baseball fields, batting cages, and other amenities are decrepit, and residents want the gymnasium the town promised in 2007. 
The town budgeted an estimated $4 million for the park, which includes a $1 million loan, cell tower revenues at $30,000 a year, and $60,000 a year in savings on electric and lighting services.

Park improvements would also include an airnasium; new tennis and basketball courts; a concession and bathroom facility; field and fencing reconfigurations; walking trail path; and additional parking spaces.     

Town Manager Alex Rey said the town could wipe out the $1 million debt in four years by making minimum payments and using savings from future budgets. 

But Councilmember Frank Mingo wasn’t convinced about the time frame and interest rate for the loan, fearing the town might lack money for the recreation building for the new Senior Center, among other issues. 

“I would love to see the park finished but I am strongly against borrowing the money at this time,” he said. “Who knows what can happen, we could have another economic crises and we’re stuck with paying back the loan. It could take 40 years to pay it off.”

The issue sparked a brief heated exchange between Mingo and Mayor Manny Cid, who said he, too, is reluctant to borrowing the money but residents are demanding “we finish the park.” 

“We are responding to what the community wants,” Cid said. “Kids are leaving for Weston and Pembroke Pines. I’m not in favor of it but residents are telling us get Optimist Park finished.”

Mingo alluded to a straw ballot in 2003, when proponents wanted to borrow the money then for the park but suffered a crushing defeat. 

“They opted for the pay-as-you-go plan and that’s where we stand,” he said.

Councilmember Luis Collazo suggested putting the question on the ballot again for the town’s general election next year.  

Councilmember Ceasar Mestre said he also wants to see the park finished but hates to borrow the money to do so.

“I’m willing to listen and make a decision later on,” he said. 

Councilmember Marilyn Ruano said she’s wrestling with her ambivalence over the commitment of a loan.  

“I’m not completely decided but I understand your point,” she said. “I’m torn because it’s very difficult to grow without borrowing money, and pay-as-you-go works for small things but not for big projects. Residents are getting tired of waiting.”  

The town tentatively decided to keep the same rate of 2.335 for property taxes for 2017-2018, which is $2.33 for every $1,000 of taxable value but some residents will pay a slightly higher tax hike since their property values have increased. 

However the $8.4 million for police services is a majority portion of the town’s estimated $26 million budget, which mostly likely will increase again in 2018-2019, Rey said.  

Despite an increase in property tax revenues, the town’s rate wasn’t enough to cover the entire cost for law enforcement services and was forced to cut Town Hall department’s expenses to offset the shortfall, and fund the town’s tree-trimming program.  

According to assistant Town Manager Andrea Agha, she said the police contract with Miami-Dade increased by 10 percent during a five-year period. 

She said residents’ taxes were able to cover the costs at 87 percent, but this year’s estimate is at 125 percent of their property taxes.

The town adding two new police officers this year and an increase in health care insurance drove up the costs. 

“Residents’ taxes no longer cover the total costs of police services,” she said.

Miami Lakes doesn’t control the police contract, with the exception of overtime pay for police officers during special events and traffic duties, including the Block the Box program at the Palmetto Expressway. 

The town will study some options to keep the costs of police services from increasing again.
With some of the impact fees and Miami Lakes’ share of the Transportation Tax money, the town is offering to construct a road on N.W. 59 Avenue between 151 to 153 streets to connect motorists to the industrial park, which is called Miami Lakes Business Park East, for $775,000.

“It would create a nice economic hub,” Agha said. 

 For the traffic congestion, the town has allocated $125,000 for a traffic study, which would encourage drivers to park their cars near the Par 3 golf course and ride a bus to connect them to Metrorail, as part of partnership with Miami-Dade. 

The town’s budget for next year also includes sidewalk replacement ($170,000); street lighting utilities and repairs ($332,000); N.W. 67 Avenue widening project ($489,000); and $150,000 for the Par 3 golf course design.

Miami Lakes has scheduled two budget hearings for Tuesday, September 5 at 5:01 p.m., and Wednesday, September 20 at 6:00 p.m. 

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