EXPANSION PLANS: A local accounting and consulting firm is gunning for incentives to expand here. The firm — which the county does not name during the courting process — is considering consolidating its Broward office with its local operations by renovating a 57,500-square-foot facility. It would make a $10 million capital investment, county documents say. The move would create 80 new jobs here over three years, and 30 employees could relocate from Broward. The company is also considering Atlanta for a new home. To keep it here, Miami-Dade would pay up to $112,000 over six years as part of the state's Qualified Target Industry Program. Commissioners gave the incentive preliminary approval at a committee meeting last week.
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FARE HIKE STANDS: After Miami-Dade commissioners voted this month to increase Metrorail and Metrobus fares 50 cents — a move designed to help close a staggering transit funding gap — Carlos Gimenez at a meeting Tuesday asked his colleagues to reconsider. Only four backed him in voting to revote, and seven refused to consider it, killing his motion with no discussion and leaving the increase in place. Staffers have said the fare increase will prevent many bus routes from being eliminated.
QUESTIONING HEAVY RAIL: Fish or cut bait on the planned North Corridor Metrorail extension, Miami-Dade Commissioner Katy Sorenson said at a Transit Committee meeting last week. "We have to be realistic," she said. "As of today we don't really have a funding source." Because of funding constraints, "heavy rail may not be in the future for this county," she said, suggesting fast buses or light rail instead. The county is projected to need $9 billion over the next 30 years to maintain current systems and build planned projects like the extension. Fare hikes passed this month are to help close the gap. Though she said she understands plans may need to change, Commissioner Barbara Jordan maintained that, until the commission officially decides to switch gears, it's important to stay in line for federal funding for the Metrorail project. "Why should we hold back not being part of the game if there's a shot? At least we have an application there," she said. Ms. Sorenson suggested someone write legislation to offer direction in the back and forth. "Maybe we need to have it out once and for all."
FREEZE: As commissioners struggle with Miami-Dade Transit budget issues, Javier Souto is suggesting a temporary freeze on nonessential spending. "While we attempt to resolve this crisis in the long term, which will probably include the scaling back of the ambitious Metrorail expansion projects… we need to focus our available funds to keep our existing level of transit and all our bus routes operational," he wrote in a memo. "Therefore…we need to call for an immediate moratorium and freeze on expenditures for non-essential capital items that can be postponed for an additional year. We can recapture millions of dollars to keep our transit system fully operational another year if we cancel the purchase of million of dollars of extremely expensive hybrid cars in FY 2008-2009, as well as all expenditures across the county involving non-essential capital items like furniture, carpeting and equipment."
SHOW, DON'T TELL: To promote transparency in government, the Miami City Commission approved a measure to require organizations and groups requesting fee waivers to include a clear breakdown of such fees. Chairman Joe Sanchez spearheaded the move earlier in the summer. Commissioners are also asking in-kind services costs, monetary costs and any other waived fees to be clearly stipulated in items to be presented to commissioners for approval.
SARNOFF' S ONE BROADWAY SOLO: Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff last Thursday failed to persuade other commissioners to agree to a review of the One Broadway sign permit for the residential building at 1451 S Miami Ave. Some area residents said one of the building's signs was too bright and felt they should have been notified before it went up. Class II permits don't require a public hearing, however. "The class II permit was issued in accordance with zoning code," said City Attorney Julie Bru. Commissioner Angel Gonzalez agreed an exception to the rule could not be made when the owner followed proper procedures. "Because somebody doesn't like something, that doesn't mean you have to change the entire city of Miami," he said. Mr. Sarnoff's request to review the permit died on the dais after no one seconded it.
TV ON TROLLEYS: Coral Gables is gearing up its Gables Trolley with interior flat screen TVs, which the city says are to display "informative entertainment." The city is starting an aggressive marketing project with Arcoart Plus/Trolinet, a local company that produces visual advertising, public service announcements and content, to help market Gables' hot spots such as restaurants, art galleries, shopping option and cultural events. These new source of revenues are to help support operations of the bus route. The city commission approved the proposal last month to aid the trolley service, which began in 2003.
ANOTHER TROLLEY BY GOLLY: Miami-Dade County's transit committee approved Sept. 10 a measure to run trolley routes in Homestead. Commissioner Katy Sorenson said "this is a great project, and it will really add mobility in that city."
BRAZIL VIA MIAMI: American Airlines is adding three destinations in Brazil to its route network in November — Salvador, Recife and Belo Horizonte. American will start daily flights from Miami to Salvador and Recife on Nov. 2 and begin thrice weekly flights from Miami to Belo Horizonte on Nov. 4.
IMPACT FEE HIKE QUESTIONED: Though the building industry seems to accept a proposed road impact fee hike, some Miami-Dade commissioners may not. Having left rates untouched since 1994, the county is proposing nearly tripling them by 2014, but easing into the increase in light of the tough economy. At a Governmental Operations and Environment Committee meeting last week, Truly Burton of the Builders Association of South Florida told commissioners that, though "no one likes an increase in anything, especially in these difficult times," members understand the county's position and appreciate having been included in the planning process. The association is "supporting the staff because of the way they handled it," she said. Commissioners Natacha Seijas and José "Pepe" Diaz were hesitant. Mr. Diaz said he's concerned that builders pay twice if cities charge road impact fees. Assistant County Attorney Craig Coller said city fees are for city roads and county fees for county roads. Still, Ms. Seijas asked for more time to consider the hike, and the committee voted to defer a vote until next month. "I understand…part of the industry feels very comfortable," she said. "In my vote, I'm feeling very uncomfortable."
FEE USAGE: Commissioners also deferred a related road impact fee measure proposed by Carlos Gimenez. He's suggesting the county use road impact fees collected in urban infill areas to improve transit there when there are no opportunities to use them for roads.
SAILING ALONG: The Port of Miami reports record cruise passengers year to date. Latest figures show passenger traffic for January through July at 2.5 million, 4.7% above last year. Sustained growth is due in part to the variety of cruise options offered, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
SUNK: A plan sponsored by Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman to permanently ban local restaurants from serving water unless patrons ask has taken a bath. The decision should be up to businesses, some commissioners said at a Governmental Operations and Environment Committee meeting last week before voting down the idea. "I don't think we should get to that level of imposement to these businesses," Jose "Pepe" Diaz said. He said "we live from tourism here," and some restaurants may want to follow other customs that call for water at the beginning of meals. Natacha Seijas suggested instead a push for the county's "green" restaurant program, which asks businesses to voluntarily only serve water upon request.
CUTTING ON INFORMATION: Miami wants to save money and trees by cutting down on printing documents. The City Clerk's Office as part of its green initiative is limiting the number of commission meeting agenda copies it provides the public. Once copies run out, the public has to pay 15 cents per copy for any page of an agenda that is usually 30 to 50 pages. This year, the budget department also opted to conserve by not printing a proposed budget booklet. Michael Boudreaux, director of Strategic Planning, Budgeting, and Performance Management & Budget, said the preference for going green and an opportunity to cut costs led the department to not print the budget this year. Last year was the first time it printed the booklet, which in 158 pages explained the spending plan.
NOT HAPPY: Commissioner Tomás Regalado disagrees with the professed "green" decision. "The main function of government is to inform the people; being green is not an excuse not to put out the information," he said. "I see this as another attempt to keep the people of Miami in the back seat." The department handed out a two-sided document with highlights of the proposed budget at the meeting and uploaded a copy to its Web site, the city's Mr. Boudreaux said.
GOOD EATIN': Miami-Dade had record restaurant sales in May, an increase of 2.2% in taxable sales from the previous May. The growth meant an increase of about $7 million to $326,999,127.