By Christopher J. Russo, Former City Manager
(March 1, 2015) – I am happy to report that 2014 was a year of tremendous progress in our City on many fronts. We have seen growth in our tax base from both residential and commercial properties, substantial movement on many Capital Projects, significant increases and improvements to programs and services provided to residents, and a long overdue overhaul of the internal software systems across City departments.
There were six major projects under development last year that brought in a total of $9.58 million in additional revenue through development fees. There are another seven projects scheduled to start development in 2015, which are projected to bring in another $9.56 million in the coming year. The City Commission has used this revenue to fund our Capital Budget, since these are one time revenues. Additionally, each project goes through a rigorous screening process prior to approval to ensure that all City codes and requirements are met, and that our City’s ‘world class’ standard is upheld.
In my last annual update, I addressed Beach Sand Renourishment. Last year we spread 36,000 cubic yards of sand from the Sands Point Condominium to the Golden Strand Timeshare. Beach renourishment is one of the main focuses for City staff. We are working with coastal engineering experts to develop a strategy that addresses preserving our beach in the near future and in the long run.
Intracoastal Parks opened in April; however, with the partial collapse of the seawall on the south end in August, we realized that the entire wall should be replaced while under an emergency situation for which permitting was streamlined. The north end of the park remains open during the final phase of the repairs and the park is expected to be fully complete, including the playground, by this summer.
The development of Gateway Park is well underway with the parking garage and performance stage visible from Sunny Isles Boulevard. Completion is scheduled for August, with the pedestrian overpass bridge from the North Bay Road area to be completed by November. Gateway Park is the City’s largest park and will provide community gathering space, performing arts, and dining that will be safely accessible by pedestrians and will provide ample parking for vehicles.
Phase I of the Town Center Park renovations was completed, which included sidewalk repairs, safety surface for the playground and exercise areas, new sod, new gates, and a new drinking fountain. Phase II includes shade structure repair, an additional gated entrance and vending machines.
We have enhanced staffing for our parks and community policing unit in order to accommodate the addition of Gateway Park and to maintain the high standard of safety and maintenance of all our parks.
2014 was a landmark year for the award of state funds. We received $1 million from the state legislature, split between the Performing Arts Stage at Gateway Park and the stormwater drainage project along 174th Street, which will start by Summer 2015. We launched an internship program for college students and recent graduates interested in public service. This program provides them with an opportunity to gain practical knowledge through hands-on experience in municipal government and to apply what they learn in the classroom to real world situations.
Our Cultural and Community Services Department continues to make strategic changes to some of its main events, resulting in much better quality and attendance for those events:
• Spring Fling will move to the gymnasium at Pelican Community Park, allowing for more space and better amenities as the Holiday Ball did in 2014
• Egg Scramble and Booogie by the Beach will again expand the event space onto 181 Drive
• Jazz Fest was produced in house in 2014 as it will be in 2015, reducing the expense while improving the overall event.
We constantly evaluate the quality of our facilities and services to optimize the benefits to our residents and visitors.
In the Building Department, we implemented a new Building and Permitting Public Portal that allows users to access the permitting process online, including access to permit information, checking permit status updates, inspection requests, etc. We also added a new program, Specialized Permitting Services. For the more involved interior remodeling projects, users can purchase this service for an additional fee which will provide concierge service through-out the permitting process, from start to finish, including expedited plan review.
We successfully implemented a new financial software system that consolidated and streamlined our financial and human resource functions across departments. Also on the technology front, we transitioned the City’s record keeping system to be primarily electronic. We also launched social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which provide important information to residents regarding events and information throughout the City.
We look forward to continued progress in the coming year, completing some projects and starting others.