Charter reviewers wrestling with incorporation, annexation
By Wayne Tompkins
The Miami-Dade County Charter Review Task Force last week debated, but took no action, on incorporation and annexation of the county's unincorporated areas.
The task force is charged with reviewing and recommending changes to the county's 50-year-old home rule charter. If county commissioners approve the task force's recommendations, they will go before voters on an election ballot.
Task force members reached consensus at a previous meeting last month that an incorporated county would allow county commissioners to focus on regional issues. Residents in unincorporated areas would need to approve such measures, however, and most now pay lower taxes then they would if they were part of a city. That would make the idea a tough sell, several members conceded, though some members pointed out those residents would typically receive more services as part of a city.
Carlos Gimenez, the only Miami-Dade commissioner on the task force, said a pro-incorporation stance would ask the county to depart from its recent policies.
"The county has done everything in its power to stop incorporation," Mr. Gimenez said. "They've put in as many poison pills as possible to stop it. Those areas still left the county, because they wanted self-determination."
The "poison pills" Mr. Gimenez described include payments for mitigation, police and other county services.
"We need a reasonable, logical method for incorporation," he said.
The charter now says that only the Board of County Commissioners can create a new municipality in an unincorporated area, after hearing Planning Advisory Board recommendations, conducting a hearing and after a majority of voters within the proposed boundaries vote for it. Today, the county has 35 municipalities, and about 46% of its 2.5 million people live in unincorporated areas.
Task Force Chairman Victor Diaz Jr. urged the group to move cautiously on the issue, saying that the task force has not reviewed least five previous reports on incorporation.
"I will say to you that the 800-pound elephant in the room is the desire by donor communities to keep their money and their demographic self-determination," Mr. Diaz said. "We have to take into account some political reality."
Miami Beach Mayor David Dermer, speaking against the backdrop of status-quo positions the task force has taken, asked, "Do you want to cut a wide swath of reform or not? If not, it's OK, but if you want change, it has to be bold."
Former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez tried to bring the discussion down to a basic question: "Do you want the county to be in the municipal business, or not? "Incorporation is because of a lack of services. Let's go back to the basics."
Two recent attempts failed to incorporate Miami-Dade County — in 1997 and 2002. The latter try, to incorporate or annex the unincorporated area by 2018, failed by a single vote to gain commission approval.
Full incorporation would set Miami-Dade on a course similar to Broward County, where only about 13,000 people on 11 square miles of county land live in unincorporated areas.
The 21-member charter panel, which recently received an extension of its Oct. 31 reporting deadline to Jan. 29, anticipates adding a 22nd member in coming days. The new member would represent the county's Haitian community.
At Friday's meeting of the Miami-Dade County Commission's Governmental Operations and Environment Committee, Commissioner Audrey Edmonson is expected to nominate community activist Karen Andre to serve as the new task force member.
Under the 90-day extension of its deadline, the task force is to submit an interim report Oct. 31 and its final recommendations Jan. 29.
So far, the task force has rejected radical proposals for change in favor of maintaining institutions that ensure diverse representation in government. For example, it so far has rejected calls to add six at-large county commission districts to the present 13 single-member districts.
Members also have rejected calls to directly elect the now-appointed offices of Miami-Dade police director, elections supervisor and tax collector. However, the group was split evenly in a trial vote on whether the politically sensitive position of property appraiser should be chosen by voters. The task force plans to take up that issue again.
In coming weeks, the task force is expected to discuss term limits for elected officials, the balance of power between the mayor and commissioners, and procurement reforms.
The task force consists of one member appointed by each commissioner, one by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, one by each of the county's four largest cities and three by the League of Cities, representing smaller municipalities.
This review is required by the charter to be held every five years. Proposed changes, if adopted, could alter the balance of power between Mayor Alvarez and the 13-member commission.
The task force is to meet again at 10 a.m. Oct. 17 at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center.