gene-tinnie_web.jpgVirginia Key Beach Park Trust (VKBPT), after operating on rollover dollars and a zero budget, has been approved to access its own funds.

A 4-0 vote during a July 29 special city commission meeting allowed the Trust “access to some of its other monies that were locked up,” according to Miami City Commissioner Richard P. Dunn II, who made the motion.

“It’s not new funding, not money coming from the city, but a budget amendment,” he said.

The monies, totaling $216,519.51, were dollars the park collected weekly from parking fees, special events and amusements, according to Guy Forchion, the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park Trust’s executive director.

“We generated this money on our own, but could not access it for months,” he said.

VKBPT is an agency of the city of Miami, but a separate trust. And as such, Patrick Range II, a VKBPT trustee explained, “they [the city of Miami] needed to approve our budget.”

Earlier this year, Range said, the Trust submitted an anticipated revenue figure to the city. The park did so well, that figure was exceeded.

“Because we remain an arm of the city, we had to go back to the city for any budget amendments necessary,” he explained.

Essentially, Range continued, in order to use any extra monies the park may have generated, “we had to go back before the commission and ask their permission to use those funds.”

The Trust has an operating account into which monies are deposited. Although it is a city account, it bears the Trust’s name, Range said.

“As it relates to the budget and how it was submitted, if there are monies raised that have not been included in that budget, we certainly have to ask permission to utilize them,” he said.

Ordinarily, Range said, [asking permission] is a “noncontroversial thing. Our charter has a number of regulations, one being that for budget amendments, we must approach the commission for approval.”

Trust members, Range said, were shocked that the item was declined during the June city commission meeting.

“We had not anticipated any problems,” he said.

An item entered by Commissioner Frank Carollo came up on the agenda before that of the Trust, according to Range.

“It did not mention Virginia Key Trust in particular, but the creation or elimination of outside agencies in the city. We were then asked about our audit, which we are required to submit each year.”

Because the Trust’s rollover funds were not approved until January, its members were unable to take certain actions.

The Trust’s contract with its previous auditor expired last year, Range said, “so we had to go out and bid.  This left us pressed to get our audit in, and it was not due to a fault of our own. We hadn’t forgotten; we simply did not have monies approved to hire an auditor.”

The audit was completed in March and Carollo, Range said, “received a hand-delivered report” from the Trust in April explaining why it was late.

“We never heard back from him and were never able to schedule a meeting with his office.”

During the June commission meeting, Range said, the commissioners did not approve the budget amendment “based on not getting a response from us regarding the audit.”

During the July commission meeting, Dunn said that he explained that the Trust had “already expended its rollover funds.  They were out of money and could not pay staff salaries or meet other obligations.”

Commissioners Francis Suarez, Marc Sarnoff and Wilfredo “Willy” Gort along with Dunn, attended the July 29 meeting.

Carollo, who was not present, could not be reached for comment.

Forchion said the amendment was “merely loading our collected revenue so it could be used. It all happened fast and efficiently,” said Forchion. “Everything, from a number of items including the lease, salaries, vendors, contractors doing work on the property has now been moved forward.”

The Trust, Range said, did receive an “apology of sorts” from the commission regarding its audits and “accusations that were leveled against us,” he said.

“They recognized that there were misstated facts,” he said.

Despite money troubles, VKBP continues to thrive.

On Aug. 1, the historic park celebrated its 65th anniversary. Many attended the celebration to reminisce, others to learn about its history and enjoy its amusements.

Enid C. Pinkey said that her father, Bishop Henry Curtis from The Church of God of Prophecy, baptized many in the bay waters during the 1940s. Pinkey, 83, who serves as the Trust’s vice president, described the park’s restoration as “my vision. It is fantastic to see that we are still here and the place is filled with many who continue to enjoy it.”

Mary Simpkins, 66, has visited VKBP since 1965.

“We came here every Sunday until integration set in and they closed,” she said.

“It was devastating,” said the Miramar resident, who attended the celebration with three generations of family. “But we have been coming back since they reopened, and will never stop.”

It was a first-time VKBP visit for friends Margorie Jean Baptiste and Linda Nelson, both 34.

Baptiste said she came “to learn more about a historic place” and introduce her 10-year-old son, Reign Baptiste, to its culture.

Nelson said that “more blacks should make an effort to support the beach. The history lessons here are important.”

File Photo: Gene Tinnie