Miami Gardens residents engage in bond discussion

Town hall draws questions on how $60 million will be spent

Carla St.Louis | 3/6/2014, 9 a.m.
Bad weather did not prevent over 200 residents of Miami Gardens from packing a town hall meeting last Thursday to ...

Bad weather did not prevent over 200 residents of Miami Gardens from packing a town hall meeting last Thursday to drill City leaders on a proposed $60 million dollar bond to fund renovations and new projects.

Held at the Betty Ferguson Complex’s outdoor amphitheater, Mayor Oliver G. Gilbert and the City Council’s proposal was met with general confusion from locals who admitted it was their first time hearing anything about it.

Residents overwhelmingly agreed with the City Council that Miami Gardens needs improvements that could be funded by the bond but many disagreed on how the dollars should be spent.

Policy makers were inundated with questions about how the proposal will deter crime, whether or not the bond should be spent on other measures and queries about the City’s previous bonds.

Miami Gardens’ new deal

“Why can’t we make [sports like ballet, fencing and boxing] available to our kids,” asked Gilbert. “[The Betty Ferguson Complex] shouldn’t be the only place we can congregate. There are 18 parks in Miami Gardens that are underused. We talk a lot about the things we want; [the general obligation bond] is the first step to getting it. Can we redevelop and re-imagine this city at $3.85 a month?”

The $60 million general obligation bond is for large-scale renovations at parks, installation of surveillance cameras and license plate readers and the development of a culinary arts and hospitality center, an elderly center, audio-visual and arts center and STEM laboratory.

Although Miami Gardens has the largest population of Blacks outside of Atlanta, with over 100,000 residents, only 68,000 are registered to vote. Ballots will be mailed to approve the bond on April 1st, 20 days before the election. The City Council needs a majority vote from residents in order for the measure to pass.

The City anticipated it will pay the bond over a 25-year period through tax revenues that will cost residents an estimated $3.85 monthly per average household or $46.20 annually. The bond has a low 4.5 percent interest rate due to the City’s A-plus credit rating, said Gilbert.

Residents speak: ‘Where’s the transparency?’

Although Gilbert said, “this is the first time we’re doing something like this for us” in reference to the prospect of executing a $60 million dollar development plan, many residents felt his proposal was all too familiar.

“What about the allocated funds for Bunche Park’s renovations that never happened,” asked Ulysesses Harvard in a microphone during the question segment of the meeting. Harvard, a resident of the City for 56 years served as a former City councilman from 2005 to 2006. During his speaking session with Gilbert, many members of the audience applauded his statements.

Several other residents brought up a total of 22 bonds from the City that were issued for development and demanded the outcome of those plans.

“I think the City is putting the cart before the horse,” said Harvard. “[...][The City Council] wants to propose a $60 million dollar bond without a business plan, time table or itemized line [...] What is the development timeline for these new facilities, renovations and installation of safety measures? The bond was approved back in May 2013 yet tonight is the first meeting the City has had about it. And now you’re sending a voting ballot in April. What’s the reasoning behind it?”