Incorporation study could result in a big-picture county hall
By Michael Lewis
An innocuous step by Miami-Dade is actually a long-overdue stride to help the county maximize pressing opportunities.
While it's far from that vital goal today, a commission OK last week of a 13-member task force to assess creation of cities and villages in every inch of the county is progressive and long overdue.
In fact, until April the commission had for six years frozen out five areas that asked to become cities. Reversal from a ban to a study that could put every resident into a city is to be applauded.
Turning into cities unincorporated area, home to almost half of Miami-Dade's 2.5 million people, would free the county from pothole governance in which it's now both a massive regional overseer and a mythical clump of town halls.
That dichotomy forces government to grind slowly and with too little long-term focus on regional issues.
Eliminating the duty to do what city halls can do with more feeling for local needs would permit a broad view hailed in the 1950s when our format was crafted as a model of two-tier government — a model still unfinished.
The task force could well recommend the best way to complete that two-level format, with villages and cities treating local issues and the county broadly focused on a region larger in economy than more than two-thirds of the world's nations, larger in population than exactly 100 nations, and larger in area than 65 nations, including large economies like Hong Kong and Singapore.
A government with so much range has no business filling potholes or zoning neighborhoods. It's far too busy positioning a cosmopolis — or it should be.
Well done, total division into cities under an efficient county hall will benefit residents of both each city and the county as a whole, which will shift its attention to big pictures.
There's plenty of big picture: transportation, infrastructure, land use policy, water and sewer service, the environment, massive airport and seaport opportunities, a huge workforce, economic development and far more.
Does anyone think these regional needs get enough focus today? Let's give the county the leeway to do them all better.
The first step forward is to pick task force members and give them room to make thoughtful and fitting recommendations.
Each commissioner is to name one member. The team is to have six months to study.
For this to work, commissioners must appoint fast and call the first meeting soon, because a report is due in six months. On task forces for other purposes, commissioners have delayed appointments, squeezing study time.
While the administration is to staff the team, it's vital to give it funds to call in expert advice. Other two-level urban governments can detail pitfalls they faced so we don't repeat their errors.
Even more vital will be open-mindedness on conclusions. Past studies have been charades as commissioners ignored advice and criticized views. That was the sad case with a recent charter review.
The incorporation team might meet such intransigence, especially from commissioners based in unincorporated areas.
Javier Souto, de facto mayor of his entirely unincorporated district, questioned the need for the task force last week, saying the commission itself is "going to decide every single issue." But even he admitted that the unincorporated areas "will one day disappear."
Today, Miami-Dade has 34 municipalities in two-tier government. Five more await incorporation. More still would be needed to incorporate the entire county — how many to be detailed.
The task force has even more to weigh, such as:
nHow to form cities so that the poorest areas aren't left scattered here and there?
nHow to ensure that cities have a workable tax base or means to build one?
nWould richer areas be forced to pay what some term an alimony fee to form cities, as happened to Miami Lakes, Palmetto Bay and Doral about a decade ago?
nHow could our sales tax for transit growth be shared with new cities as it is with present ones?
nHow would cities be shaped to cluster logically and avoid "string cities" barely linked together?
nShould scraps of land left after dividing up the county be clustered into a "leftover" city that has no common denominator other than that nobody wanted its pieces?
nWho would initiate a municipal incorporation? If nobody did it, could or should the commission do so?
nWho would approve incorporation, residents, commissioners or county voters as a whole? And what if one area rejected city status — could it be forced to be one?
These vital questions require time and expertise. Commissioners should be sure that task force gets both — as well as members permitted to act on their convictions.
Carried to logical conclusions, each now-unincorporated area will get a city government geared to its needs while county residents as a whole will gain a broader-thinking commission, maximizing our opportunities both today and far into the future.
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