State of the Village in 2011

By Cindy Lerner….

Mayor Cindy Lerner

It’s been a busy and productive year. Over the past year, the Village Council tapped into the expertise of various consultants to help guide us in making important decisions on whether to and how to move forward with enhancements and improvements.

The first concern in the current economic climate was, of course, was it warranted? It is important to establish guideposts and set goals. There being no five-year plan in place, the first step was to take the pulse of the Village residents, determine budgetary priorities and identify short- and long-term goals. The process by which we developed the strategic plan included focus groups, a statistically valid survey, several workshops and much thoughtful discussion. This process provided us with an accurate gauge of community interest and concerns. As a result of the outreach, we learned that there was strong support for improving Pinecrest Gardens and the Banyan Bowl, for cultural and educational initiatives and for more opportunities for community interaction.

Our Council identified six areas for our focus over the next five years. Our first priority is Organizational Excellence and Financial Stability: To maintain efficient and responsive government, which embraces highest standards of service and citizen engagement. Providing public service which exceeds expectations is an important focus, and we will continue to work with our staff and encourage more volunteer involvement. And, of course, to maintain financial stability in these difficult economic times continues to be a challenge. For this current budget year, we, like all cities, have made budget cuts; we eliminated Cost of Living raises for all employees and were able to maintain the exact same millage rate as last year. Over the course of the past five years the Village budget has actually shrunk. We have reduced staff from a 2007 high and this budget year, where we had a reduced gross taxable value of 4.6 percent, our budget reflects a lower tax rate, from 2.4, down to 2.19 percent.

Our outlook is cautious and our focus is on becoming more efficient in our operations, and in identifying additional non-tax sources of revenues, and because 86 percent of the Village’s taxes are generated by residential property, our tax base has been heavily affected by the reduction of property values.

So our focus over the next five years will be on diversifying and strengthening our income base, by going after private and government grants, by re-instituting critically needed admission fees at Pinecrest Gardens, and by aggressively applying for grants.

We will also increase communication and continue to provide accessible and highquality information to the community. We have this month just instituted a Senior Citizen newsletter which will be mailed out every other month to our seniors, offering specific recreational and social programs for them, thanks to the support of Baptist Health Systems. We created a new, enhanced and more user-friendly website this year. It will allow for e-business and the application of various permits online.

Security and Pedestrian Safety is our second priority. There continues to be a high level of satisfaction with our police protection and we are proud that our Police Department has been re-certified by the Commission on Law Enforcement Accreditation and in addition designated as a Flagship Agency, a prestigious award. Our crime rate has been reduced 10 percent on Part I Crimes, the lowest level of serious crimes in the department’s history. We went from a high in the year 2000 of 836 to 595 in 2010. So in the past decade, there was a 28 percent reduction of Part I crime. We will continue to provide further resident interaction with our police, through events such as Bike Day, and expanding our Citizen Crime Watch, and the Police Explorers program for high school students. We also will continue to focus on pedestrian safety; to determine where it must be enhanced, and we will soon begin construction on a sidewalk at 60th Avenue to provide safe routes to school and better connectivity to our community center and Pinecrest Gardens. This month, we will be discussing the potential for developing enhanced bikeways to connect them to the neighboring cities on our borders.

RESIDENTIAL CHARACTER AND COMMUNITY ENHANCEMENT

Maintaining and protecting the character, beauty and quiet enjoyment of our community is also a continuing focus. Maintaining the quality of our public schools is a high priority for the Village and the commitment to the partnership that the Village has historically had with our schools has now been formalized with the signing and approval of an educational compact between the Village and the Miami-Dade County School Board. Our community is so fortunate to be represented on the School Board by a champion for our children, Dr. Larry Feldman. We have a true partnership and team, which includes our principals and PTAs.

The Smart Schools campaign, which was announced at last year’s State of the Village, has yielded new corporate support. We have applied for grants and have just unveiled a community arts fundraising campaign, to raise additional funds. It is called smArty Dogs and like the peacocks in the Grove, flamingos in the Gables and manatees in South Miami, Pinecrest will soon be sprouting large fiberglass dogs, painted by local artists, in our parks, school sites. We are looking for businesses to host a smarty dog or to sponsor a dog. They will be auctioned off next March and all proceeds will go to our Smart Schools campaign.

Our Youth Advisory Council, which has now been operating for a year, has been a real source of pride for me. The Village Council created this advisory group, modeled on the Florida League of Cities framework, to provide middle and high school students in Pinecrest an opportunity for civic engagement and leadership opportunities. We seek their advice and guidance on programs and even movie selections for teen night, and they work as liaisons between their schools and the Village on many of our projects.

This past year we have developed a youth media project — teaching them how to create communications messages for our radio station. We sent a delegation to the Florida League of Cities conference in August to spend a day with other youth councils from throughout Florida, leadership training, listen to speakers and learn more about local government.

We participated in the creation of a new Pinecrest yearly event, the Earth Day Festival, planned an eco-fashion show and one of our members, who wrote a song for Earth Day, was invited to sing it in the Miss Florida Earth Day pageant.

RECREATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE

The community center operational audit by a national recreational consultant provided us with significant guidance on how to improve our facility, program offerings and operational management.

In order to make sure our residents are involved and have significant input into the plans for our center, the latest advisory council was created, the Community Center Advisory Committee, whose role is to review the recommendations, prioritize, and provide recommendations to the Village Council. These volunteers represent all segments of our community and take their responsibility seriously. We applaud their commitment of time, energy and ideas. We now have recently installed more outside seating, shaded tables and will soon have wifi at the center, and a teen room. We have also just instituted a more formalized senior activity program, which includes group trips, computer classes at the library, monthly socials, and new yoga and tai chi classes at the community center. We are advertising for a senior activities director and look forward to even more opportunities to enrich the lives of our residents.

Our Pinecrest Pioneers luncheons, for our 90 years young residents, continue twice a year at the gardens, and the oral history project is a truly precious opportunity to capture our own history and to engage our youth council with a multi generational experience.

Although we haven’t yet identified the ideal place within our park structure for a dog park, I assure you we will keep looking; I have my eye on several new potential sites and will eventually identify the perfect location for a dog park.

CULTURAL VALUE

Improving the amount and variety of arts and culture to provide opportunities for enrichment and community interaction. The arts and entertainment consultant we retained this past year performed a thorough analysis and solicited input from over 60 arts and cultural organizations to develop a business plan, which now guides us in prioritizing and investing in infrastructure improvements.

And at the same time, we have the new organizational structure within the Pinecrest governance of a stand-alone Pinecrest Gardens department and the hiring of Pinecrest Gardens Director extraordinaire, Alana Perez. She has just the right mixture of marketing, programming and development skills, with a vibrant and bubbly personality and enthusiasm that is quite infectious. And the changes here have been evident and progressively significant each month of her tenure. One of the best advertisements for the gardens and the community is our farmers market. We have by far the best market in all of South Florida – every Sunday through May.

The results of our planning, with significant input from our Pinecrest Gardens Advisory Committee, will reveal themselves from this night going forward. We invite you to attend the jazz series, movie night gallery openings and dozens of events.

Our Pinecrest Gardens Advisory Committee, composed of volunteer residents, meets monthly to review all aspects of the gardens, the facility, the botanic needs, the programming, and our engagement of area organizations as supporters. The lighting project has been completed, and although there are yet more areas to be enhanced with lighting in the future, the new lighting will enable us to provide more community events at night, in a magical setting. The stage, lighting and sound system enhancements you now see in the Banyan Bowl provide opportunities we only imagined, but will now be experiencing, with musical, and theatrical, dance performances throughout the year. Family and teen movie nights, a jazz series and our schools performances are all planned for coming months; hope to see you back here. Finally, our application for this facility to be designated on the National Historic Registry is moving forward and we hope to have approval soon. That will enable us to apply for special funding grants in the future to continue to maintain this exceptional facility.

ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY

Last year we were Going Green; this year, I am proud to say, we are Green. It is our goal to minimize our community’s impact on the environment by becoming more energy efficient in our operations by reducing energy consumption.

Last year we endorsed a green action plan, which requires sustainable procurement policies, a Village-wide recycling program at all of our parks and government buildings, and we will soon be revising our building and land use codes to encourage more sustainable practices. We have purchased two hybrid vehicles so far, and next year I hope we will add a car charging station at our Village Hall and incentives for others to do the same. Those electric cars are here to stay. Our energy efficiency practices and consequent dollar savings will be measured as we go. I am working closely with Miami-Dade, State of Florida and the National League of Cities on energy and the environment, developing policies and practices for municipalities, and we are partnering with Miami-Dade County’s Office of Sustainability. We joined together last year to support legislation creating property assessment clean energy programs which passed in Florida, and are soon joining our South Dade neighboring cities in providing homes and businesses with financing options to retrofit with solar and energy efficient improvements, creating a new green economy and new jobs for our community.

And finally, we will finally be creating a transit project in Pinecrest, utilizing the people transportation tax allocated to Pinecrest by the county, but never before used. We will be starting a pilot circulator project to reduce the congestion around our schools in the morning rush hour and after school. If there is enough interest and participation by middle school and high school students, we could significantly reduce traffic flow by offering a school route for the hundreds of students who live within the two-mile radius of school getting potentially several hundred cars off the streets and allowing for transportation from school to our parks and community center for our students.

If this proves successful, we will explore transit for residents to Metrorail as well. This would reduce our carbon footprint while providing parents with significant convenience of not having to leave work to rush to school to pick up a child just to get them to their next activity.

One final note, our Village staff exemplifies professionalism and exhibit a true work ethic, and we ought to offer more opportunity for residents to get to know and thereby appreciate what Pinecrest employees do to make our Village as wonderful as it is.

Working with this Council is a real pleasure. Their commitment to the Village, their collaborative spirit and shared vision makes this process one that is welcoming to all, which is how it should be. I thank them for their time and energy, great ideas and collaborative attitude.

The wonderful work that has been accomplished this past year is the result of a great collaborative effort by your Council, along with our staff, the manager and his staff, the Clerk’s office, our departmental directors, all play a part; but the most important are our residents, our volunteers who participate on education, community center, Pinecrest Gardens and youth advisory boards, senior activities committee, Pinecrest Pioneers project cooks who help make the luncheons a great success, our garden club, our community foundation are likewise creative, engaged and committed to improving their community. We thank them for giving of their time, their ideas and energy to help make Pinecrest even better. If you aren’t involved but would like to be, please let me know. The monthly E-Newsletter is my way of keeping you informed and involved in what is happening. If you do not currently receive it, you can sign up for it online.

Our partnerships with our neighboring cities — South Miami, Coral Gables, Palmetto Bay and Cutler Bay — have been wonderfully successful. Whether we are fighting the proposed monstrosities on US 1 (I call them monstrosities, others call them transmission lines), planning how we can impact transit and traffic, or developing legislation and programs to become more energy efficient. It has been a terrific working relationship, and I thank each one of you. For the newly elected, we welcome you and look forward to continuing a great working relationship and support for each other.

This has been one of the most toxic political years I can remember, and I can tell you that with the anti-government and antiincumbent feelings being so strong, I was ever so thankful not to be up for election this past November. Here in our wonderful Village, we could delude ourselves into thinking life is beautiful and what ails the country eludes us, to focus on strictly the four corners of our village, but that would be a mistake. We are not insulated, we all impacted by the downturn and we all have a responsibility to be conservative with our finances and we have been. But we also have much opportunity at the same time, to be visionary, to partner with our schools, our neighboring cities, and even our county to lead the way. One of the goals I have included in the education compact is to develop Palmetto Senior and Middle schools into a green academy. I hope to see it accomplished by next year.

I’ve spent the past two years learning all I could about the sustainability — what does it mean and why should we reform our ways. I’ve attended local regional and national conferences, talked to other elected leaders, to experts, to vendors, and heard from enough communities to see and to believe the new economy is the green economy. Pinecrest can and will join with our local schools and neighbors to bring new public-private partnerships, offering new jobs and efficiencies to our residents and our businesses. If I can do one thing over the next year that I believe will make a lasting impression on our community, it will be to help inform, educate and engage you in some of what I have learned — to understand our responsibility to our planet and our resources and adapt to new practices— then I would consider this next year a huge success. Watch for the programs and opportunities, and please take advantage of them.


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1 Comment on "State of the Village in 2011"

  1. What a long, exhaustive commentary. Yet, I was left wondering from the first paragraph to the last word, who were the "advising consultants" engaged by the mayor and Pinecrest Village Council? What were they engaged to concretely deliver? What were they paid? Why were they necessary? Who selected them? And, can't elected officials and regular, full-time staff of the Village perform whatever the work is that's supposedly required, without going externally to engage other vendors?

    While I appreciate the mayor's sincerity and eagerness to communicate, I'd suggest less of the narrative, with the obligatory deference to "Our Council", etc. and just get more to the point. What are the facts that you need readers to know? What are the crucial data-points (tax rates, etc.). What is the size of the rainy-day fund? How many police are on the streets, YoY. What is the "5 year plan"? Etc.

    Thank you.

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