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Bari Auerbach

Sunny Isles Beach is familiar territory for Christopher Russo, who formerly served as City Manager and will soon be welcomed back to fill the position following the recent resignation of Alan J. Cohen. Police Chief Fred Maas will continue serving as interim city manager until Russo officially takes over on Oct. 15. After relocating from Rye Brook, New York, Russo first took the helm as City Manager of Sunny Isles Beach on August 21, 2000. The late Mayor David Samson and members of the City Commission unanimously voted to hire Russo following the departure of the city’s first manager Jim DiPietro. Russo had originally been one of the primary choices for city manager back in 1997 when Sunny Isles Beach incorporated, but financial concerns at the time dissuaded the Commission from offering him the position.

Following five years of dedicated service, Russo stated he intended to embark on a new career in the private sector and left his position on Oct. 31, 2005. In a letter to the Mayor and City Commission, he noted many of the municipal initiatives he helped spearhead to pave the way for continued progress and prosperity. “We have achieved a great deal on behalf of Sunny Isles Beach over the past five years, such as the new Government Center, installation of storm water drainage projects throughout the city, upgraded and expanded parks, implementation of all the streetscape and beautification programs, and the ongoing planning for a new school. All of this has been accomplished with our tax rate remaining one of the lowest in Miami- Dade County.”

‘WELCOME ACHIEVEMENTS’

During Russo’s productive tenure as City Manager, he helped the city accomplish many goals to heighten quality of life including:

• Restoring a renewed sense of enthusiasm and confidence in city management

• Gaining an understanding of city finances and formulating an appropriate budget process

• Identifying and assessing long-term financial needs

• Creating an on-going formal pending agenda of projects and capital budget plans

• Ensuring the completion of projects including parks, drainage improvements, road resurfacing as well as supporting beach renourishment in cooperation with county and state agencies

• Forging ahead with the creation of more parks and beach access points

• Improving traffic flow and transportation

• Fostering teamwork, a clearer sense of responsibility and structure at Government Center Commending Russo’s performance, Mayor Norman Edelcup noted he “made the city’s administration stronger during his [original] five years of service” and helped ensure city staff was ”in great condition to continue the strong growth and redevelopment of the city.”

‘WELCOME TAX BREAK’

Russo is now looking forward to “making the best even better” in Sunny Isles Beach once again. This “flashback” to a Concerned Citizens meeting in November of 2004, where Russo delivered a State of the City address, highlights how the city has managed to keep tax rates low over the years without cutting services.

Sharing information about property taxes in 2004, Russo noted, “The tax base remains at $3.35 per $1,000 of taxable assessed value.” Fast forward to 2012, the millage rate is now lower than it was eight years ago. Mayor Norman Edelcup recently announced, “We have just conducted a two day workshop for our 2012-2013 fiscal year budget, and I’m extremely pleased with the results. Based on the discussions we had at the workshop, I’d like to propose a reduction in our millage rate for 2012- 2013 by three percent. This would reduce our rate from 2.886 mills to 2.8 mills per $1,000 of [taxable] assessed value.

The effect of this would be to reduce our city tax levy by approximately $500,000 from our 2011-2012 millage rate – and give that money back to our taxpayers. In general, this would mean people who are under the Homestead and Save Our Homes provision, under the state law, and would otherwise be looking towards a three percent rise in their taxes would now have that rise eliminated by the three percent reduction in our millage rate.”

In 2004, Russo also reported the city’s taxable assessed value grew from $1.2 billion in 1997 to $3.6 billion in 2004 and was anticipated to be in the $6 billion range upon completion of luxurious developments on the rise. Russo’s “prosperity prophecies” have now come to fruition as the city’s 2012 taxable value is $6,258,284, 331, which includes new construction and additions value of $74,139,611. According to Sunny Isles Beach Assistant City Manager-Finance Minal Shah,

“The 2012 taxable values, including new construction, represents an increase of 10.745% over the 2011 Taxable Values after Value Adjustment Board changes. Without new construction, the increase in taxable values is 9.43%.” The 2012 increase in taxable values is the second consecutive year values have been escalating in Sunny Isles Beach – even exceeding last year’s growth rate. In 2011, Sunny Isles Beach was one of only ten Miami-Dade municipalities that had an increase in property values (up 8.3% from 2010).

‘WELCOME BACK TO SCHOOL’

Students went back to school in Miami- Dade County on August 20 – and in Sunny Isles Beach, the Norman S. Edelcup Sunny Isles Beach K-8 welcomed back all the kids with a focus on “back to safety,” always especially emphasized by Police Chief Fred Maas.

“Please become a partner with us, your school and your community as we all strive to provide a safe environment for all our children to grow,” Maas says. The following list is an excerpt from a Special to the Miami Herald, “Now is a good time to talk about” courtesy of Carmen Gonzalez Caldwell:

• Never place your child’s name on any piece of clothing that is visible to anyone. You do not want to make them a target for a stranger to call out to by name.

• Make sure your child knows his or her full name, phone number, parents’ full names, address and a work phone number. It is not helpful when officers find children who do not know their full names or addresses.

• Throughout the school year, talk to your child about drugs, strangers and any weapon they might see or hear about, a bully or any related concerns. Let the child know that such information should be reported to the teacher and to you immediately.

• If your child is going into a new school or going to school for the first time, ask her whether there is anything that frightens or makes her uncomfortable. Share that information with the teacher or school police.

• Check with your child’s school regarding policies and procedures on emergency situations so you are not frightened if there is a lock-down. If you know the policies and procedures, you can calmly pick up your child when it’s appropriate.

• If your child rides the school bus, talk to him/her about how to behave. If your child has to wait alone at a bus stop, stress not accepting rides from strangers.

• If older kids ride with a friend, make sure that you speak to them about wearing seat belts. Do not assume that your child knows even the basic facts about safety and other risks.

• Set up a regular calling time to know when your child arrives at home.

• Another good idea is getting your child involved in school organizations and programs; and parents should consider joining the PTSA.

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