Miami Gardens passes $60 million bond

Erick Johnson | 4/24/2014, 9 a.m.
Despite doubts and uncertainty, residents in Miami Gardens rallied behind city leaders on Monday and approved a $60 million general ...

Despite doubts and uncertainty, residents in Miami Gardens rallied behind city leaders on Monday and approved a $60 million general obligation bond referendum to renovate the city’s parks. This is with hopes to attract more investors to the state’s largest predominately-Black city.

The controversial referendum won by nearly 62 percent of the vote through a special election in which mail-in ballots were sent out to the city’s 65,689 registered voters April 1. Voter participation was low with only 13 percent of those voters sending in their ballots by Monday’s deadline. A total of 8,353 votes were officially counted from the election.

"Today, our residents have spoken,” said Mayor Oliver Gilbert in a statement. “They’ve said that providing a safer community for our youth and improving the quality of life for our seniors is a priority.”

The bond will cost the average household in Miami Gardens about $46.28 per year, and will be paid out over the course of 25 years. That amount is based on the city’s average taxable home value of about $34,000 after the homestead exemption.

Since February, city leaders campaigned tirelessly for the referendum as they told residents their grand ideas to transform some of the community’s 18 parks into sprawling, sophisticated facilities with culinary kitchens, performing visual arts centers and well equipped science laboratories. They also pitched plans to spruce up other parks with improved landscaping and upgraded facilities. Plans also call for a new senior citizen center and upgraded surveillance equipment to fight crime.

Those ideas faced heavy criticism during town hall meetings from skeptical residents who demanded transparency and specifics details on how the bond money would be managed and spent. As a result, a new group, Concerned Citizens of Miami Gardens was formed by frustrated residents seeking answers to find out the city’s real intentions for requesting the bond money.

There were also concerns that the young city was amassing too much debt that may grow from unforeseen financial expenses in the future ahead.

To address those fears, Gilbert promised to create a website to allow residents to track the progress of the renovations. He also assured residents that a financial adviser will be employed to manage and supervise the project to completion.

Throughout his campaign to win over voters, Gilbert stressed his ultimate goal of using the proposed renovations to lure more investors to Miami Gardens in an effort to build a stronger tax base that would secure the city during economically challenging times.

But as doubts persisted, so did Gilbert. Large billboards with kids playing in parks were posted in high traffic areas, including the intersection of NW 27 Avenue and 199 Street near the massive Betty Ferguson Park and Amphitheater. There were also flyers promoting the referendum at the North Dade Regional Library and other city parks.

Harriet Graham, a resident who lived in Miami Gardens before it became a city 11 years ago, agreed.

“This city has pretty nice parks,” Graham said while relaxing at Betty Ferguson Park on Saturday. “I would like to see more things done with them. They (parks) are nice gathering spots for this community.”