Citizens will have opportunity on Nov. 3 to say yea or nay to resiliency project bonds

Citizens will have opportunity on Nov. 3 to say ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ to resiliency project bonds

Key Biscayne voters will decide on Nov. 3 whether to allow the issuance of up to $100 million in bonds for a full slate of village resiliency projects and, in a separate but related referendum question, whether or not to change the village Charter.

The Key Biscayne Village Council last week approved first reading on an ordinance proposing a Charter amendment which would exclude the general obligation bonds from the village’s debt cap because the $100 million estimate exceeds the village debt ceiling of 1% of taxable value. Second reading of this ordinance is scheduled for July 28, said village Attorney Chad Friedman.

The 2020 Preliminary Taxable Values show that Key Biscayne has $8.2 billion of taxable value, which would provide for a debt capacity of $82 million for Fiscal Year 2021, said Chief Financial Officer Benjamin Nussbaum.

At its July 2 meeting, the council approved a resolution calling for residents to vote on bonds not to exceed $100 million -- the purpose of which is to finance three resiliency initiatives, informally called “buckets,” said Village Manager Andrea Agha.

She explained that each bucket has an estimated total cost. The general obligation bonds usually cover a lesser amount, with the village making up the difference.

Agha said the three initiatives spelled out in the July 2 ordinance include:

1. Sea level rise and flooding. Apply the concept of “complete streets” to the most appropriate among about 40 miles of roadway in the key, which in terms of addressing flooding includes consideration of roadway elevation and location of utilities. Total cost, $40 million. Amount covered by bond, $40 million.

2. Protecting beaches and shorelines. Multiple projects, including creation of an offshore breakwater ($10.3 million), sand to be hauled in ($3.4 million), and seagrass mitigation ($7.5 million). Total cost, $64,550,000. Amount covered by bond, $23.3 million, with balance to be paid off over 50 years.

3. Hardening infrastructure. Includes funding for undergrounding utilities, for which a master plan has been created, possibly with the financial assistance of Florida Power and Light. Total cost, $49.2 million. Amount covered by bond, $35.2 million.

In a related infrastructure initiative not requiring funding from this bond issue, the village previously approved stormwater work that will be paid with proceeds from a recent increase in stormwater fees to residents.

Council members Luis Lauredo and Ignacio Segurola voted against the general bond ordinance. At the July 2 meeting, Lauredo said the bond debt will add to community stress in an already divisive election year for the country.

“This is typical, ‘Government, give me a blank check.’ If you give the government money, they will find a way to spend it. I’m not against (these projects), just not at this time,” said Lauredo, calling it “very irresponsible.”

Segurola called removing -- or, technically, exempting -- general obligation bonds from the 1% village debt cap a “slippery slope” that would “open the floodgate” on village borrowing.

Council member Ed London, who spearheaded the bond effort, last week called securing bonds prudent long range planning. By borrowing as soon as possible, he added at the July 2 meeting, the village would likely benefit from record low interest rates.

Mayor Mike Davey reminded council members that voters will ultimately decide on the bonds. “I think it’s wise,” he said. “We have to give the people the opportunity to vote on it.’’

Council approved the bond measure 5-2.

Village Manager Agha, while not advocating for or against the bonds, said placing the issue on the ballot gives residents the opportunity to show their support for long term planning for resiliency -- and especially to address flooding issues related to sea level rise.

“These are very important projects for the village,’’ she said.

If the Charter Amendment question is approved on second reading July 28, both referendum questions will be sent to the County Supervisor of Elections to be placed on the Nov. 3 ballot, Friedman said.

A portion of the official language to be included on the ballot: “A resolution of the Village Council of the Village of Key Biscayne, Florida calling for a bond referendum of General Obligation Bonds by the Village in an amount not to exceed $100 million for the purpose of financing the costs of mitigating the effects of sea level rise and flooding, protecting the Village’s beaches and shoreline, and hardening infrastructure to the effects of hurricanes….”