Incorporation will best improve West Kendall, but the final decision is up to its residents, said Miami-Dade District 11 Commissioner Juan C. Zapata who sharply criticized county budgeting in discussing related issues at a May 28 meeting of the Miami- Dade Police Hammocks District Citizens Advisory Committee.
Pulling no punches, Zapata sharply criticized current Miami-Dade budgeting as “crisis management without an end game in place.”
With the county now facing a $200 million budget deficit, Zapata warned that policing, “the largest part of the county budget, has resulted in a system of benefits that simply cannot be sustained over a long period of time,” noting that the primary function of government is securing public safety.
Zapata specifically pointed to union police and fire-rescue contracts with benefits in place “that commit us to payments in future years without any plan on how to pay for them.”
The lack of long-range budget planning to pay for such costs has led areas like West Kendall to push for incorporation, primarily to secure better use of collected tax money “now disappearing in the county budget without any equitable return on those dollars,” he stated.
“Instead, the county carries over indebtedness in a kind of yearly merry-go-round cycle without any kind of systematic planning,” he said adding that it was largely the reason that many municipalities have incorporated recently to retain more local control over tax dollars collected within their boundaries.
Since his election in November 2013, his first-hand experience with county budgeting has convinced him that incorporation is the only way “donor communities” like West Kendall can determine how its revenues are spent to achieve growth and local improvements, he stated.
One of Zapata’s first actions as commissioner was the formation of a Municipal Advisory Committee to study incorporation of a West Kendall area (known as Section One) between Tamiami Trail (SW Eighth Street) and Kendall Drive (SW 88th Street), west of 137th Avenue to 187th Avenue, with a population estimated at 129,000. A second West Kendall area south of Kendall Drive to SW 152nd Street, west of SW 137th Avenue to SW 237th Avenue, was designated for a MAC study by Zapata as Section Two.
“So far, I haven’t been able to find anyone to serve on Section Two,” he said.
In 2001-02, a West Kendall MAC committee studied an area combining similar areas north and south of Kendall Drive from Florida’s Turnpike west to Krome Avenue.
After a nearly two-year study, the committee voted to disband, largely due to a continuing lack of interest shown by residents.
That was not the case on May 21 when more than 50 residents attended a West Kendall MAC meeting at the Kendale Lakes Branch Library, many “believing they would be actually voting on incorporation,” according to Ingrid Gonzalez, a Zapata aide.
“People need to understand that the MAC process is essentially a non-partisan study to determine the pros and cons of incorporation,” Zapata told the CAC.
“It will determine the extent of services that can be provided both by the city and the county, as well as the makeup of a new city government, its tax base and service areas.”
Such a study is expected to take at least a year or more before a final report is ready, including at least two public hearings,” he added, noting “acceptance of the report would still require county commission approval of a special referendum by residents to vote on incorporation,” he stated.
At the same time, “We are experiencing a demographic shift that is now moving people out of the suburbs back to downtown areas. That is why it has become critical to plan what West Kendall will become 10 to 20 years from now.”
The next meeting of the Kendall Section One MAC is scheduled on Wednesday, June 18, 6-8 p.m., at Kendale Lakes Library, 15205 SW 88 St.