Say no to the $100 million bond

Proponents for the $100 million bond argue that Key Biscayne needs to invest in resiliency initiatives to safeguard our barrier island from sea level rise, flooding; to protect the village’s beaches and shorelines, harden and protect infrastructure from hurricanes.

Most Key Biscayners would agree with that argument considering the island is surrounded on all sides by ocean. Yet no shovel-ready projects, budgets or terms for the bond have been presented to validate this $100 million milestone debt request. Issues of resiliency and sustainability are part of our island’s reality! The justification for the $100 million bond, however, is predicated on a false premise -- the island needs an immediate injection of $100 million to invest in resiliency initiatives that either have been ignored or are desperately needed.

Key Biscayne taxpayers and the village government have continuously invested in various resilience initiatives since the island’s incorporation in 1991. Since September 1998, the village implemented a floodplain mitigation management plan to align with FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which allows property owners and renters to obtain flood insurance.

The village revised its building and zoning ordinances and codes to regulate new construction in floodplain areas to be raised to withstand floods. In 1996, the village completed a stormwater management system to address the island’s chronic flooding problems, installing catch basins connected to state-of-the-art deep injection wells to minimize flood damage.

The storm-water system needs rehabilitation, and the council in September 2019 approved an increase in the stormwater tax utility by 50% to fund the maintenance, as well as a $19 million stormwater utility bond to upgrade the system pipes and structures. The stormwater bond is excluded from the $100 million bond.

Interestingly, Miami Beach is years away from implementing its stormwater management system with costs approximating $196-206 million dollars, and the City of Miami is expected to finish its updated plan by 2021. In the meantime, unlike its neighbors, the village has been updating and consistently funding its stormwater management system for the last 25 years!

Protecting Key Biscayne’s shoreline and dunes is critical to ensuring the island fortifies against the severity of oceanfront flooding from future storms. In 1997, the village established a Long Range Beach Management plan to maintain and re-nourish the beach and shoreline, funded by taxpayers, in conjunction with federal and state grants. This ground-breaking 50-year Beach Plan was the first such plan in Florida!

Currently, the village is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conceptualize another large scale beach renourishment plan, design, approval and permitting, which is at least five years away. The village’s funding strategy is to have the federal government subsidize the majority of the costs.

Key Biscayne 2020 continues to build upon its resilience, sustainability and quality-of-life initiatives as highlighted in Village Manager Andrea Agha’s bold and ambitious FY2021 Capital Improvement plan (COP) that includes shoreline protection ($2.3 million), an undergrounding utility design plan ($200,000), and beach improvements ($300,000).

Agha’s FY2021 Budget forecast is a message that residents should heed: “The proposed budget funds the next phases of the critical resilience projects in FY21 using grant awards and pledges specific revenue increases and expenditure reductions that will become available in FY21 and FY22 to fund a $50M resilience bond in FY22. Pledging funds as they become available eases the pressure on current and future millage rates.” Having a phased approach on resiliency initiatives allows taxpayers to absorb the costs as projects are implemented, versus rushing to borrow $100 million, paying interest before any construction even begins.

So how do we extricate ourselves from this $100 million bond fiasco? The Council members that support the referendum (Davey, McCormick, Moss, London and Petros) have an opportunity on July 28 to do the honorable thing by taxpayers and back away from this impulsive initiative. Agha’s FY2021 budget proposal is a starting point for the council and community to discuss the current and future spending on resiliency projects that still need to be developed, engineered and budgeted.

This is not the time nor is there a need for the $100 million bond. Key Biscayne has always been progressive on its resiliency planning while maintaining fiscal constraint as prescribed by the Village Charter. Let’s back away from this $100 million bond fiasco and let’s thank Key Biscayne taxpayers for their continued investment in our beautiful island.