Miami Beach public works projects such as this one in Sunset Harbour have cost taxpayers a lot of money.
Miami Beach public works projects such as this one in Sunset Harbour have cost taxpayers a lot of money.
Photo by Karli Evans

Vote No on Miami Beach's Looney $439 Million Bond

Early voting begins today, and the City of Miami Beach wants us all to vote for another general obligation bond — a loan proposed by elected officials that uses funds for various capital improvement projects. It’s voted on by residents and paid for, over time, by raising property taxes.

We’re told that in this bond, our property taxes will increase approximately $88 for each $100,000 of taxable property value. The bond is broken up into three parts: $169 million for park, cultural, and recreational facilities; $198 million for neighborhoods and infrastructure; and $72 million for police and fire. The city wants $439 million in all, or nearly a half-billion dollars from us, but I’m voting no on all three of the 2018 bond measures.

Because you’ve mostly heard from the city and groups trying to get the bonds passed without much opposition, I felt I needed to add my 26-year perspective and experience. Many of you have received the glossy “Vote Yes” campaigns in your mailboxes, sometimes daily. There are renderings and flyers at meetings depicting the happy, frolicking children who will enjoy the finished products.

You’ve been fed a lot of positive information. If you hear nothing to the contrary, you might get the impression everyone plans to vote yes for this bad idea.

Let's begin with the city and its management style. In 1999, the city created the Capital Improvements (CIP) department, designed to handle that year's $92 million bond projects. The department was formed to deal with a budget 80 percent smaller than the one being proposed but is now expected to execute the proposed $439 million bond, which is five times greater.

The city hasn’t announced anything about evaluating or reinforcing the department. It hasn’t vetted a team capable of handling a half-billion-dollar fund. It’s completely silent on this important detail. The current team wasn’t designed to handle this $439 million colossus, nor did it perform well on the 1999 bond. It’s been wasteful and unreliable. The City of Miami Beach, well-intentioned as it may be, is ill-equipped and ill-prepared to manage projects and funds of this magnitude.

On its Frequently Asked Questions page, the city states that of the 62 projects from the 1999 bond, five were not completed because funds ran out. The city will need an additional $30 million to finish them. Those don't include another very large, unfinished project: the Flamingo Park Master Plan. That one was left out of this status report. It’s actually six incomplete projects, if that’s all they omitted. The funds needed to complete those should adjust the total upward by tens of millions of dollars. That’s a huge shortfall and tells us we don’t have a fine-tuned mechanism in place.

Two good examples of the city’s project management failures are the Indian Creek seawall and the floodwater pumps. The first morphed from a $5 million to an $8 million undertaking after the city discovered it hadn’t obtained a permit to rebuild the seawall. Had the project gone through the permitting process, the blueprint mistakes might’ve been caught before the city was so far in. Rebuilding the seawall pieces could cost as much as $800,000.

The other example is the flood pump debacle. No engineer or project manager of our own seemed to think a pump would need a back-up electrical supply. Tropical Storm Emily came and flooded the streets, an outage ensued, and the pumps became useless.

The city needs to do better. Never does it mention during these disasters that it will reevaluate its systems, its engineering, or its project managers. It only apologizes. Until the city can show it has a structure in place that performs satisfactorily and reduces unnecessary waste, vote no to the G.O.! The city will argue that interest rates are low and now is the time to float another bond. Essentially, it wants a $439 million credit card from us despite its terrible track record.

We don’t give car keys to adolescents, and we shouldn’t give the city a half-billion-dollar fund. It isn’t prepared. It has done nothing to restructure its CIP department. Without a good project management infrastructure in place, the city is ill-suited to carry out the 2018 bond projects. Again, that’s nearly half a billion dollars, five times more than the 1999 bond, and the city hasn’t made any effort to shore up its project management team with individuals who’ve had experience managing a Goliath budget such as the one proposed.

When the city does reevaluate and fine-tune the project management structure, then it can ask for money. It must first lay the groundwork for this bond — and it hasn’t. This lack of preparation says the city is winging it. As much as I’d like to see my neighborhood projects done, we are not ready to take on a $439 million debt without a good management mechanism in place.

There would be awful waste with the team we have now. The city has overlooked the department's inadequacies. This is an ambitious and enormous venture that deserves careful thought and planning, and the city’s silence on rebuilding the CIP department speaks volumes. We can’t have $30 million (and perhaps tens of millions more) shortfalls. We can’t have engineers flouting the permitting process; we can’t have managers forgetting backup generators; we can’t have a mechanism with no checks and balances. What needs attention is the city’s project management structure.

Pay close attention to the ballot's bond items. They’re on the last two pages. I hope people don’t get too tired and miss them November 6. Be ballot-ready. Vote no!

Normando Matos is the former Outreach and Awareness Coordinator for the Flamingo Park Neighborhood Association (FPNA).

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