Florida International University medical school gets $10M in Dade county bond money
By Lou Ortiz
Miami-Dade County commissioners Tuesday agreed to give $10 million in General Obligation Bond interest earnings to Florida International University for a medical school project that was not among those approved in the 2004 bond vote.
Despite complaints about the absence of rules or a process for the use of bond funds, commissioners voted 10-1 to divert the money to FIU for an outpatient and ambulatory health clinic on the main campus.
The clinic will be part of the university's new medical school.
Commissioner Dorrin D. Rolle, who voted no, was the most vocal and critical of County Manager George M. Burgess and his staff for not coming up with a process on how to spend the interest funds — more than three years after voters approved the program.
Mr. Rolle also criticized county staffers for not alerting all commissioners to the interest earnings that could have been used for bond or district projects.
Mr. Rolle said he has sought a much-needed police station for his district but was told by county staff that it was too expensive and had to be scaled back, while not knowing that the bond interest earnings were available.
"Why weren't we appraised that we had $20 million?" Mr. Rolle asked, referring to the current pot of interest earnings.
"You can't sprinkle sugar on manure and then call it candy," Mr. Rolle told Mr. Burgess. "Nobody has said how we'd divvy up the additional dollars."
Mr. Burgess told commissioners that his recommendation would be to use the bond interest for cost overruns on projects that voters approved in the 2004 program.
"There are going to be projects that will need the extra funds," he said.
County Board Vice Chairman Barbara Jordan told Mr. Burgess and his staff to come up with a process by the next board meeting for "all interest-bearing accounts that are eligible for expenditure.
"The frustration of Commissioner Rolle is understandable," she said. "We have to look at what is needed" in terms of projects and spending "and a process can address that."
Commissioner Joe A. Martinez sponsored giving the money to FIU, which is in his district, with Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz as co-sponsor.
"I don't think this will happen again. It won't happen again," said Mr. Diaz about straying from the list of bond projects. But he added that the FIU project "is for the whole community."
FIU President Modesto Maidique told county commissioners the school benefits everyone. "The medical school is not a one-district medical school," he said. "We're a public university."
Commissioners stressed that their concern was not about the worthiness of the FIU project but how the county should spend bond program funds.
"We want to make sure district needs are treated equitably," Ms. Jordan said.
Mr. Burgess said giving FIU $10 million would leave $5 million of interest earnings from the first $260 million bond issue after another $5 million is subtracted for administrative costs.
"This," he said, "is the first draw on interest money."