cameron-benson_web.jpgMIAMI GARDENS – Presenting the issue as a prerequisite for being able to attract additional businesses, Miami Gardens officials are encouraging residents to vote in favor of a $60 million general obligation bond in a mail-in election scheduled for this month.

If the referendum is approved, money from the city’s first-ever bond will be used to fund new recreational and educational programs at municipal parks and equip the police department with technology designed to help solve and deter crime.

Vice Mayor Lisa C. Davis and Councilman Erhabor Ighodaro hosted a recent Town Hall meeting on the referendum that drew about 65 people to the Pentecostal Tabernacle International church.

City Manager Cameron Benson gave a visual presentation to help explain the bond, including renderings of images that could potentially be developed, such as an entertainment studio, an alternative sports building for gymnastics, a culinary arts facility with a commercial kitchen and a food storage area and a senior center on the same land as the historic Enrico Dairy Farmhouse.

Benson said that, in 2007, the city convened several community meetings to discuss improvements to Miami Gardens. Those discussions led to the construction of the Betty T. Ferguson Community Center and improvements to a few parks. But other parks, such as those in Bunche Park and Myrtle Grove, got no attention, Benson said, because the money ran out.

Benson said that because federal and state funds are no longer available, or cities are being required to come up with matching funds, Miami Gardens must now pursue alternative ways to finance improvements to the remaining parks.

“We’re really at a situation where the only way that we can move forward is if we invest as a community,” Benson said. “Enrollment in park activities is up, so we’re bursting at the seams. We need to expand.”

The proposal has its opponents. After hearing that some of the bond money will be used to install security cameras, an unidentified woman voiced opposition to assisting the police with “harassing us.”

Another woman, Joyce Person, countered, “I don’t agree with that. We have a lot of shootings here within the city of Miami Gardens and nobody’s talking. With a camera here or there, maybe that would help us.”

Person said she’d like to see the city undergo a transformation similar to that of the Miami community of Wynwood – a formerly crime-ridden, neglected area that is now thriving with restaurants, retail development and a vibrant arts scene.

Benson said he and Mayor Oliver Gilbert meet frequently with potential developers about doing business in the city and crime is usually high on the agenda.

“The first thing that every development group I’ve talked to since I’ve been here, the first thing that they ask about is, how’s the crime,” Benson said. 

Gilbert called attention to shooting deaths in 2013 and the adverse impact on the city’s reputation.

“Last year, we had an 11-day span with 10 shootings,” Gilbert said. “Two o’clock in the morning my phone rings. Not just a kid who would’ve gotten hurt but also a kid who probably did the shooting.”

He said the proposed new security technology is about reversing that trend. 

“I’m thinking about places where they put up cameras and use technology to deter crime because that saves lives,” Gilbert said. “I’m thinking about not just deterring the crime and catching criminals on one end but [also] giving our kids something to do, on the other. How many of you have said, ‘If these kids had more opportunities, they wouldn’t be getting into trouble’?”

Gilbert encouraged opponents of the plan to offer alternative solutions.

“If someone tells you we shouldn’t do this, ask them what we should do and when we should do it,” he said.

Registered voters will be sent mail-in ballots and will have until April 21 to vote. The estimated cost to residents for the bond, based on the average taxes paid by the 68,000 households in the city, is about $46 per year, according to officials. Benson estimates that the interest rate will be about 4.25 percent.