Shifting Gears- Miami-Dade- Oct. 2002
If approved as expected, the tax will raise $150 million a year. County Mayor Alex Penelas is vigorously touting the People's Transportation Plan, which calls for $17 billion in spending through 2031. About $8 billion would be spent to expand the county's elevated Metrorail system, including a 17-mile east-west line connecting downtown with Florida's Turnpike. Another $3 billion would be used to nearly double the county's bus fleet.
Voters soundly defeated a similar sales-tax measure in 1999, handing Penelas one of his most stinging political setbacks. Opponents, led by auto magnate Norman Braman, complained that some of the proposed revenue was earmarked for the arts and other projects unrelated to transportation. An aggressive campaign to defeat the tax appealed to voter distrust of elected officials following a string of high-profile corruption scandals.
To allay those fears, the current plan calls for a citizens oversight board to monitor all expenditures. "We want the current tax plan to be as transparent as possible," says Manny Palmeiro, marketing manager for Miami-Dade Transit. "Three years ago I think voters had reason to be concerned. That's not the case this time around."
Some controversy persists: Under the proposal, 31 municipalities will divvy up 20% of all transit-tax revenues for discretionary transit-related expenditures. Opponents call this political bribery of local leaders in exchange for rallying the vote. Some activists, worried that funds will be misued, have pledged to oppose the entire ballot measure.
Meanwhile, county leaders say the regional transit authority plan can help the tri-county area receive billions of dollars from the federal government by demonstrating a unified approach to traffic management.
Under the agreement, the three counties will ask the state Legislature to expand the mandate of the existing Tri-County Commuter Rail Authority, which oversees the commuter link connecting West Pam Beach and Miami. Transit officials recommend expanding Tri-Rail service (which roughly follows I-95) and adding east-west links to the line. Funding would come from a surcharge on license tag renewal fees, raising about $8 million per year, along with state and federal grants.
While Broward and Palm Beach leaders have long championed the expanded authority, some Miami-Dade officials opposed the plan, citing lingering resentments over other regional issues. Others worried Miami-Dade could be out-muscled by two smaller neighbors working together. Miami-Dade commissioners approved the plan after assurances that the county would receive additional seats on the authority's board of directors.
IN THE NEWS
Homestead -- Baptist Health South Florida will build a 120-bed hospital in Homestead to replace its aging Homestead Hospital. The $100-million, 300,000-sq.-ft. facility, to be built on Campbell Drive east of Florida's Turnpike, will include a state-of-the-art emergency-care center more than three times the size of the existing facility. The project includes an adjacent medical office building. Officials expect hospital staffing to jump 25% to about 700 once the facility is open in 2005.
Herb grower Herbonics Inc. has been acquired by Virginia-based Shenandoah Growers for an undisclosed price, forming one of the largest packaged herb wholesalers in the U.S. Privately held Herbonics operates 35 acres of field production and a 250,000-sq.-ft. greenhouse for hydroponic growing.
Miami -- Royal Ridge Ice Cream Co., a supplier of ice cream products and beverages to the cruise line and hotel industries nationwide, has expanded its Miami manufacturing facility, creating 30 jobs.
Argentina-based Sarmiento Advertising Group, South America's largest outdoor-advertising company, has established a U.S. headquarters in Miami. Sarmiento specializes in the manufacture of outdoor benches and illuminated advertising displays. The company expects to invest $1.5 million and create 24 jobs.
Following an apparent rift with Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, City Manager Carlos Gimenez has announced his resignation effective in January. Gimenez, a former fire chief, is widely credited with bringing stability and credibility to a city once teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Diaz plans a national search for a replacement.
Florida's largest office tower, the 55-story First Union Financial Center in downtown Miami, will be sold to a group of foreign investors for $270 million -- the highest price ever paid in the state for an office building. The building was last sold in 1996 for a then-record $207 million. Though the commercial market in south Florida remains soft, analysts say the jump in value reflects investor confidence in real estate.
Tenet Healthcare Corp. plans to spend $45.2 million on expansions and renovations at its south Florida facilities. Palmetto General Hospital in Miami will receive $5 million to add 18 beds
to its critical care unit, $4 million to expand the emergency unit and $9.7 million to beef up surgical services.
Miami-Dade -- Miami-Dade Community College Medical Center has received a $2.25-million grant to help boost success rates on licensure/certification examinations. The federal grant is available to institutions with large Hispanic populations. Miami-Dade Community College is the largest community college in the nation. Last year 53% of credit and non-credit students at the school's medical campus were Hispanic.
Despite a severe economic downturn in Latin America, cargo traffic at the Port of Miami increased 1.7% in the first half of fiscal 2002, ending April 1. Port officials attribute the gain to a push in recent years to attract shipments from other regions. The port ranks first in the state in total cargo volume. Meanwhile, cruise passenger traffic increased 7.8% during the same period.
NLRB REJECTS VOODOO CLAIM
MIAMI SHORES -- A National Labor Relations Board hearing officer has rejected a claim by managers of a nursing home that pro-union supporters used voodoo tactics as part of a campaign to unionize the facility.
Last February, the predominantly Haitian workforce at the Mount Sinai/St. Francis Nursing and Rehabilitation Center voted 49-37 in favor of joining the Service Employees International Union.
Management challenged the vote, claiming union leaders scattered pennies and placed half-empty glasses of water throughout the nursing home. They also complained that workers might have been intimidated by a woman clutching a string of black beads who performed a ritual dance on the day of the vote.
Community leaders within Miami-Dade's sizable Haitian population have accused management of religious discrimination and ethnic stereotyping. An appeal of the National Labor Relations Board ruling has been denied.