Money shift could make parking fees unnecessary

By Richard Yager….

Miami-Dade Commissioner Javier Souto

Miami-Dade Commissioner Javier Souto’s fight to repeal $5 parking fees at several Kendall parks is expected to end in December with near-unanimous support of his cause by a newly constituted county commission.

A new proposal would transfer to the Parks Department $500,000 from a Convention Development Tax Shortfall Reserve Fund designated for Zoo Miami, now with $9 million for fiscal 2010-11 operations.

The “extra” $500,000 for Zoo Miami funding will, however, be re-designated for use by the Parks Department to replace a projected $500,000 from parking fees to maintain operations for the current fiscal year without the need of any revenue from new parking meters.

The new fees actually were voted to become effective for fiscal 2009-10 but were not activated by the Parks Department until July when Souto began his effort to repeal the action that has delayed meter installations for fee collections.

According to Commissioner Souto, Florida Statutes permit use of the Shortfall Reserve of “about $13.2 million” to fund zoo management and operations.

Appropriating $500,000 from CDT for the zoo releases “an equal amount of the Park Department’s budget which could be used to fund expenditures that would have otherwise have been paid for with the weekend parking fees,” Souto’s statement read.

To fulfill 2010-11 budgeted operations, projected meter revenues were needed from weekend and holiday visitors to Kendall Soccer Complex, Tropical, A.D. Barnes, Larry and Penny Thompson parks, and Hialeah’s Amelia Earhart soccer complex, Park officials said.

Souto’s first proposal to reduce Parks Department advertising by $500,000 was defeated 7-6 on Oct. 5 with Commissioner Katy Sorenson and Dorrin Rolle in the majority. Souto then decided to “revisit” the proposal after the Nov. 2 election results identified a new District 8 commissioner because Sorenson did not seek reelection.

Replaced by former Homestead Mayor Lynda Bell (and Rolle by Jean Monestine), Souto changed the funding formula and won the 11-2 commission approval of using a CDT Reserve Fund transfer with Bell a key vote reversing the former 7-6 majority against repeal of parking fees.

A statement from Souto’s office also credited “an outcry” by the Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations that gathered more than 300 signed petitions protesting new fees, and asking Parks director Jack Kardys to identify alternative budget reductions, other than loss of jobs, reduced advertising, park hours or closures to make up for any new parking fee revenues.

Since early July, Souto had campaigned to repeal the new fees but the effort only succeeded when the replacement of Sorenson by Bell reversed the earlier 7-6 vote. Only Sally Heyman (District 4) and Natacha Seijas (District 13) remained opposed to a repeal in the subsequent 11-2 vote.

While Heyman sits on the Recreation Committee, the five other members (Souto, Sosa, Bell, Bruno Barreiro and Barbara Jordan) voted for the new proposal on Nov. 16, indicating sufficient passage after the December hearing.

The commissioners formerly voting against repeal Oct. 5 but switching to “aye” votes in November included Seijas, Audrey Edmondson and Dennis Moss. Rolle’s October “no” vote also was negated by Monestine’s post-election support of Souto’s new proposal.

“There is no doubt that many residents are still struggling financially in this economy,” Souto concluded. “Families rely on our public parks as a safe, healthy and inexpensive place to gather on weekends. The parking fee will be a deterrent for many people, leaving our parks empty and subject to illegal activity.”

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