Souto challenges manager on bond funding priorities

By Richard Yager….

Commissioner Javier Souto

Incensed at a resolution delineating Better Building Communities (BBC) priorities issued by Miami-Dade County manager George Burgess in December, District 10 Commissioner Javier D. Souto said he will seek restoration of funding for 12 projects omitted from the next five-year BBC program.

Among them are $10 million to expand the Ronald Reagan Equestrian Center at Tropical Park, as well as funding for a new Hispanic Cultural Center. Souto claims a proposed BBC project list submitted by Burgess on Dec. 23 had “ignored, dismissed and disregarded” resolutions to proceed with improvements for the Tropical Park projects as approved by formal vote of the county commission.

Souto charged that 12 resolutions approved by commissioners for expenditures in the second five-year BBC program were omitted after public hearings, development schedules and formal commission votes.

His action followed a two-page memorandum issued by Burgess describing a new formula of implementing a “commercial paper program” to finance BBC projects on an “as needed” basis, along with an 18-page review of BBC projects for funding at the county’s 0.445 millage rate.

Souto said such action by the county administration “ignored a legislative mandate” to list the same amount of funding in the five-year project summary as voted specifically by the commission for a series of county projects.

“This board’s power has eroded to the point that it has allowed you [the manager] to gain supreme power as the county’s chief administrator and policy maker,” Souto stated.

“In the resolution, you are putting forth for the issuance of [general obligation] bonds, you not only rescind the 12 resolutions sponsored by individual commissioners, you are also asking the board to give you complete power to determine which projects are funded, at what levels those projects are funded and whether they are funded at all.”

His comments in a press release dated Jan. 12 followed a meeting of the county commission’s Infrastructure and Government Affairs Committee that withdrew a Finance Department resolution that proposed administrative authority over the next five-year bond program.

According to Bernardo Escobar, Souto’s chief aide, the resolution was to be resubmitted for further consideration but no other meeting or agenda of the committee to reconsider the resolution had been scheduled through Jan. 20.

Responding to the Souto statement, Burgess said, “I respect Sen. Souto’s passion. In December, the administration put out a proposed list of projects and how to spend available money with limited resources.

“Sen. Souto understands the fiscal constraints the county faces. While there are projects across all commission districts, there are limits,” he continued. “No projects will be included or excluded without the final approval of the board of county commissioners.”

Souto said that the proposed BBC program by Burgess contained projects “never approved by the voters of Miami-Dade County, while you are delaying projects approved democratically by the voters and taxpayers.

“I have served in the legislative level of state and county government as a Florida senator, state representative and county commissioner for more than 25 years and have never seen the executive branch ignore a legislative mandate,” he declared.

“I think it is time to clear up this blurry line between the legislative policy-making branch of government and the administrative branch,” Souto said, adding he intended to ask the county attorney “to draft the appropriate charter language to conform our local government legislative process to the state and federal model.”

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