Jorge E. Mendia M.D.

Last week, the Underground Utilities Task Force announced that they were ready to go public with their recommendations for how the project should be funded and implemented. They have worked very diligently on this and have asked for a workshop to better inform the council and public of what their plan is.

My understanding of the Task Force’s recommendations is that they will be proposing that assessments be made on each property in the Village to fund the project. Generally, they plan to assess property owners based on their perception of how beneficial the project will be to each specific property.

This will clearly create big divides in assessments. It will also foster great division within our community.

Key Biscayne existed as a community long before incorporation. When you choose to live on a barrier island, in a hurricane prone zone, a sense of community, of oneness, has defined us.

Infrastructure projects, generally, benefit the community as a whole and individual property owners to different degrees. Trying to determine the benefit to each property owner from each project would ultimately be very subjective and divisive.

Let’s consider how we fund projects such as beach renourishment and other village services.

We have spent huge amounts of taxpayer dollars, and will continue to do so, to take care of our beaches. Definitely something that is good for our community. But who actually benefits most at the individual level, a condo owner or a single-family property owner?

Even within condominiums, such as Key Colony, there are different levels of “benefit” to individual condo owners from work done on the beach.

These projects are not just about having a beach, but more importantly, they safeguard property, the condos. It is a safety issue. Without the protection of a well-maintained beach, beach erosion and storms could lead to significant damage to these buildings.

You can make the “benefit” argument about every single item in our budget. Our general fund subsidizes the Community Center, the Village Green, athletic programs, senior programs, transportation programs and educational initiatives. It fully funds our police, fire and public works departments.

Should we develop formulas to assess individual property owners for the benefit they receive from these projects and services? No, but that is what is being proposed for the underground utilities.

Undergrounding our utilities was the number one item identified as a priority in 2006 when the 2020 Vision Plan was adopted. This funding concept will continue to delay and increase the cost of a project that has already more than doubled in price.

I believe the proposed funding plan may actually become a threat to the project going forward at all, harming everyone. This project is about safety as well.

It seems appropriate that after the workshop, the council should now have the opportunity to deliberate on the proposed plan and consider all funding options.

It is time to thank the committee and allow the council to start making final decisions and move forward with this project as one community.