Five SoFla projects that have snorted our taxes

These days, anger over public spending is all the rage. Unemployment checks? Undeserved. The Obama stimulus plan? An abomination. In Miami-Dade, Carlos Alvarez is facing a fierce recall campaign fueled by bitterness over his tax-heavy budget and leased BMWs. The county mayor has been forced to fight for his job like a University of Miami student clutching the last can of Four Loko at the local Kwik-E-Mart.

The pitchfork-wielding masses are out for blood. As always, Riptide is here to chum the waters with a review of the top five wastes of local taxpayer money in 2010:

• Psycho cat-killer, qu'est-ce que c'est?: Last year, Miami-Dade Police launched an investigation into the mysterious deaths of dozens of cats in Cutler Bay and Palmetto Bay. Authorities quickly identified a suspect — teenager Tyler Weinman — and spared no expense in trailing him. The county assigned three prosecutors and a fleet of detectives to the case, which went on for 16 months and cost more than $2,000 per day. To add insult to financial injury, it turns out Weinman probably didn't do it. Prosecutors dropped the charges against him in November after autopsies revealed animal bite marks on the cat corpses. Total bill for the investigation: at least $1 million.

• Tunnel to nowhere: What costs a billion dollars and is as wide as a football field? (No Oprah jokes, please.) Answer: the new Port of Miami tunnel under construction off the MacArthur Causeway. The idea was drawn up in the early '90s, before a six-lane bridge drastically reduced port-related traffic downtown. Now the juggernaut can't be stopped despite its obsolescence. Total cost: as much as $450 million to local taxpayers.

• Fishy stadium: Remember when Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and team president David Samson came to the city with open hands, demanding help to build a new baseball stadium? Financial statements leaked this past summer show the Marlins actually had an operating profit of nearly $50 million in 2008 and 2009. All said and done, taxpayers got punked to the tune of nearly $500 million.

• Getting it done downtown: While Loria and Samson are allowed to beg their way to a new stadium, the local homeless are strictly forbidden from rattling their cups anywhere near the American Airlines Arena. The expansion of the "no-panhandling zone" in November is part of Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff's "Get It Done" directive to clean up downtown. The night of the Heat home opener, police arrested more than 150 people for panhandling, drunkenness, or disorderly conduct. Of course, Sarnoff's initiative also comes at a fiscal cost because it requires extra police presence. But so far, Miami PD isn't saying how much.

• Dropped signal: In 2006, the Miami Beach City Commission signed a $5 million contract with IBM to create a Wi-Fi network for the art deco island. Four years later, even the bums on Lincoln Road still prefer to tap into Starbucks's signal than connect to the city's shoddy system.

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.

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