Mayor Penelas declares economic state of emergency in order to hurry relief tactics
By Victor Cruz
County commissioners Tuesday approved a request by Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas to declare an economic state of emergency that will allow an acceleration of capital improvement projects.
The push to speed up work projects comes from an Economic Generation & Recovery Task Force and commissioners hoping to jumpstart a slumping economy suffering from the after-effects of the terrorism attacks.
More new projects could increase jobs and pump money into local businesses. Unemployment in Miami-Dade was 34% higher in September than it was during the same month last year, according to the Beacon Council, the county's economic development agency.
The emergency measure gives the county manager the power to speed the schedule for funded capital improvement projects and make major purchases, said George Burgess, senior assistant county manager. The formal declaration could give the mayor a variety of executive powers.
Assistant County Attorney Bob Cuevas said steps taken by the county manager's office would need "after-the-fact ratification" by the county commission.
Responding to commissioners' requests to be kept abreast of fast-tracked projects and purchases, County Manager Steve Shiver said a list of accelerated works would be provided next week. Commissioners will also get a description of the process by which his staff prioritizes the projects as well as the source of any funds allocated, he said.
The request came during a special session called to address the county's economic recovery. It followed presentations by county staff and business leaders spearheading the recovery effort.
According to Mr. Shiver, declines in air travel are hurting the local economy the most by attacking the convention and tourism business.
Down 60 % in passengers since Sept. 11, he said, Miami International Airport is losing $600,000 daily in operating funds - $11 million since the attack. He said concession revenues at the airport are down $1.9 million in the past two weeks while security costs have risen.
Although Aviation Director Angela Gittens said Tuesday there has been some return in visitor activity through Miami International, but overall, passenger traffic has been down 60% since the Sept. 11 attacks and temporary shutdown of airports.
The result, Mr. Shiver said, is that the airport is losing $600,000 daily in operating revenues. It has lost $11 million overall in September, he said, and had concession revenue losses of $1.9 million in the past two weeks.
Ms. Gittens said passenger loads on scheduled flights fell to 20% shortly after Sept. 11 but have risen to 60%.
Other sources of airport revenue, including those from concessions and parking, she said, were down 35%-45 % of normal, not as bad as the 50% to 60% that hit the airport shortly after the attacks.
On other fronts, cruise line representatives said their industry has also been affected, with 28% to 40 % declines in bookings, which are just starting to climb again.
While cargo traffic has not been hit hard to date, the fiscal impact will be $700,000, Mr. Shiver said.
The cost of security needs at the port exceed $10 million, Mr. Shiver said, some of which is not funded. He says an additional $2.3 million annually is necessary for personnel to comply with US Coast Guard requirements for an increased state of alert.
Hotel occupancy, meanwhile, is about 38%, nearly twice as low as normal for this time of year.
The full impact of a lack of tourism and additional security costs won't be known until November, Mr. Shiver said.
In the meantime, an anticipated reduction in tourist taxes would mean reduced funds for cultural grants, tourism promotion and support for the City of Miami.
In terms of the Convention Development Tax, current contractual obligations are expected to be met. The county's ability to leverage additional debt for future projects beyond those already committed is uncertain, George Burgess, senior assistant county manager.
No new commitments, he said, should be made for the foreseeable future.