Town council allocates budget surplus for projects

Government By Alexandra Herrera, Reporter Wednesday, April 19, 2023

 The Miami Lakes Town Council has allocated some of the unspent monies from the 2022-2023 budget toward police patrols, road improvements, tax relief and other items.

     The $400,500 in new expenditures decided by the council during a public hearing on April 11 will leave $874,467 for improvements to be made at Optimist Park.

     The expenditures will be:

--$4,000 Wrap four traffic signal utility boxes with decals that will honor members of the armed forces, fire rescue and police, at $1,000 each.

--$15,000 Phase 1 to improve technology and replace equipment in the council chamber during meetings to enhance presentation of PowerPoint presentations and other content for attendees and livestream viewers. 

--$50,000 Contracted hire to support Grants and Governmental Affairs Manager Reneé Wilson.

--$98,000 Police overtime to prevent car burglaries and enforce traffic safety.

--$72,000 Senior Citizen Relief Program A rebate for qualified, long-term senior homeowners.

--$5,000 Disability Relief Program A rebate to disabled first responders or military.

--$50,000 For parallel parking spaces at K-9 Cove dog park, 14048 Palmetto Frontage Road.

--$6,500 Bird Sanctuaries Designate the town as a bird sanctuary, use native plantings in Veterans and Optimist parks that are bird friendly, and promote bird sightings and reporting.

--$100,000 Speed Bumps on residential streets.

     How much to spend on additional police overtime prompted discussion by the council.  Councilman Tony Fernandez wanted to add $100,000 to enhance school safety and security, to $50,000 already slated for more police patrols to prevent car burglaries the council earmarked during a workshop. His request came after police arrested an unarmed man who was shown on social media making gestures in the street outside of Miami Lakes K-8 School.  Police accused the arrestee of interfering with an educational institution.

     The March 28 incident happened a day after three adults and three children were fatally shot at a school in Nashville, Tenn.  Four parents expressed concerns about safety at MLK-8 during an April 5 budget workshop. 

     “A gentleman with mental health issues had a breakdown, threatened the school, the police handled it and now we want to make sure it’s handled during the rest of the school year,” Councilman Luis Collazo said.

     Vice Mayor Carlos Alvarez said taxpayers fund school security through the school district and its police force and Councilwoman Marilyn Ruano agreed. Fernandez’s amendment failed in a 4 – 3 vote. 

     Collazo then asked the council to allocate $20,000 to schools, for security devices at MLK-8 and police overtime through the end of the school year. The council approved that motion.

     Miami Lakers know that during weekday morning rush hours, Miami-Dade Police officers keep traffic flowing along Northwest 154th Street and along part of Northwest 87th Avenue. 

     “It’s a highly popular program,” Councilman Josh Dieguez said. He asked that police management of traffic happen during afternoon rush hours too through the end of the school year and requested $28,000 in a “pilot program.”

     Ruano questioned using police officers to manage traffic in the afternoon. 

     “Is there any way we can do these traffic details with other personnel?” Ruano said. “I feel our police officers should be patrolling and combating crime in the town and not standing in the street directing traffic.”

     Police Maj. Javier Ruiz said he had service aides available for each shift on an overtime basis for those assignments. And if an extra police officer is hired, he or she most likely would work a midnight shift, to help with time off requests, Ruiz said. 

     Mayor Manny Cid said with the town’s growing population, it needs to eventually hire an additional officer. 

     Dieguez’s motion was approved, bringing the total additional police funding to $98,000. 

     Collazo asked for a deadline to start funding the projects that were approved so they are begun within the next six months.     

     Funds for any projects that are not started would return to the Optimist Park fund. The motion passed with Ruano dissenting. 

     A plan to use excess money to renovate the town’s largest park has been in the works since the November election, when residents voted against raising $19.5 million in the municipal bond market. 

     Town Manager Edward Pidermann said the town is working on alternative funding models to abide by the Joint Use Agreement with the Miami-Dade County School Board, which owns part of the park. 

     Ongoing concerns include flooding on fields; portable toilets and a desire to build safety features to Pinto B field, at the southwest corner to prevent cars from crashing into young athletes at play and to protect vehicles from flying balls. 

     The town has not announced final plans for the green space.