Ballots for a change in control over lighting in Miami Gardens came in and provided positive results for city officials.
Election results in all six assessment districts are in favor of giving city administrators control over lighting changes. There were 186 ballots cast of the 2,471 registered voters in the assessment districts, representing a 7% voter turnout.
Mayor Oliver G. Gilbert III said cost savings and the sun setting earlier were why officials were asking for a change.
“The infrastructure hadn’t been updated for some time. These were some outstanding districts. It gets dark really early now,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert said if the city had to make changes the control they are seeking gives residents an advantage.
“We can do that probably for a lower cost; LED provides better lighting for a cheaper price,” he said.
Miami Gardens mailed ballots asking voters to give the city control over lighting decisions on Nov. 27. Residents had to return the ballots by Dec. 17.
City officials first asked in 2018 for control of 25 lighting districts and residents voted in favor, except for those in the Walden Townhomes district, which voted against 14-1. The 2018 lighting control request from Miami Gardens received 11% voter turnout.
“We want as many people to vote at all times,” Gilbert wrote about the turnout after the 2019 vote.
According to a city spokeswoman, promotion for the vote was done through flyers handed out door-to-door, two town halls, robocalls, door hangers, direct mail and newspaper ads in both The Miami Times and The Miami Herald.
The county government was an additional layer, fielding calls and managing lighting changes in the areas. The county charged a fee from voters to pay for changes.
Miami Gardens’ officials asked voters to accept that fee to be assessed as a tax and to make Miami Gardens the primary point of contact for street lights in the city. After the 2018 vote, city council members voted unanimously for a resolution to begin the tax.
The county’s Parks, Recreation, and Open Spaces department handles matters related to special taxing districts at the county level – not Public Works & Transportation.
Miami Gardens is in District 1 of the Board of County Commissioners, represented by Commissioner Barbra J. Jordan. Her office responded to questions about the change Miami Gardens is seeking.
“The City of Miami Gardens made a request to take control of all special lighting districts within the city. Commissioner Jordan did not take any issue with said request and sponsored items at the Board level. Residents within the City will now work directly with Miami Gardens on matters related to lighting districts, instead of working with the City and the County. Some residents may see this new process as a benefit because it is only involving one layer of government and no longer two.”
Deputy City Manager Craig Clay responded about the change in payment recipients with the following: the current assessment is annual and paid to the county by residents in those districts. The only change will be to whom those payments are paid. Now, it will be the city of Miami Gardens not the county.
“We prefer to have that control in our hands so that when our residents call us we can take care of it, instead of saying they call the county,” Clay said.
The amount varies per district. Clay did not provide a dollar amount as an example.
“It really is almost pennies on the dollar per light,” Clay said.
A review of county property records shows that property owners on Northwest 47th Avenue paid $33.65 in the 2019 Non Ad-valorem taxes for a fee labeled “Miami Gardens Lighting District.” Another homeowner paid $35.90 for the same fee. Those are two homes on one property, zoned as duplexes.
A property on Northwest Seventh Place is one home on a property zoned as single family. The homeowner paid $43.71 in 2019.
“Divide that by 12 so that’s $2 or something. That’s an annual cost. If you take that $33.65 and you divide that by 12, they’re paying $2.80 a month to the lighting district. That’s a pretty insignificant number to the total value of the property.”
The $33.65 is a county number, assessed and collected by it that year. Miami Gardens will collect that amount if a resolution is approved, which would ask for an agreement with the county property appraiser to make the tax change.
“Based on the elections we are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of that lighting district,” Clay said. “The proceeds will be used for that purpose.”
“They are restricted funds” only to be used in those specific districts for the specific purpose of lighting.
Officials are seeking to maintain rates and say the change to LED where and when needed would save taxpayers.
“What we pledge is to not increase the rate of their special assessment,” Clay said. LED lights “use less energy which should result in a lower energy bill.”
City officials are keeping the door open to further requests to assume control of lighting assessment districts.
“We may. At the right time we will make those decisions. Our goal is to provide the best service,” Clay said. “If we see there are more lighting districts that the city needs to take over than we’ll make those decisions.”