By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org
Despite Pinecrest voters overwhelmingly rejecting the issuing of $15 million in bonds that would have connected 739 homes to Miami-Dade’s water system, the bitter campaign during the mail-in election has left the village sharply divided.
Village of Pinecrest Mayor Joseph Corradino is seeking a solution for the property owners who are stuck with at-home well systems, including maybe tapping Miami-Dade for funding.
“Possible next steps include a citizen-driven initiative to form a special taxing district…and/or direct attention to the county’s leadership to provide a financially feasible solution,” Corradino said in a statement after the referendum results were released last week.
“The village’s role will continue to be one of support and advocacy in the best interest of the affected residents.”
Corradino told Florida Bulldog the financing route the village decides to follow depends on how quickly the property owners without a water connection want it. “I am confident we will get this done and figure out a solution,” he said. “Right now, we are going to let it sit for a while and let people on both sides decompress.”
The fight during the four-week referendum was bitter. Supporters and opponents accused one another of scaring voters with misleading and inaccurate information. Had voters approved issuing $15 million in bonds, some of those who stood to benefit included millionaire homeowners like Miami Heat executive and retired NBA star Alonzo Mourning; real estate developer William Kaskel, and plastic surgeon and Brazilian butt lift specialist Dr. Constantino Mendieta. The average Pinecrest property owner would have paid an additional 23 cents per $1,000 of taxable value every year, which is about $158 annually.
63 percent said no
Ultimately, 63 percent of voters said no to issuing the bonds with 5,703 total voters casting ballots, or 43.7 percent of the Pinecrest electorate.
In an online comment to a previous Florida Bulldog story, Cheri Ball, treasurer of the pro-referendum political action committee Pinecrest H20, said individuals who campaigned against the $15-million bond made “nasty, ugly, patently false statements” to create divisions in the village. Ball, who is also a former councilwoman, and her husband own a six-bedroom, four-bedroom house with a covered pool that would have received a taxpayer-subsidized water connection. The couple paid $1.6 million for the property in 2016, according to Miami-Dade property records.
For instance, Ball claimed, her group had only nine weeks to prepare for a possible election and not a full year as alleged by Pinecrest residents who drummed up opposition. “Summer of 2018 began budget public discussion for [the] referendum and money was added to [the] budget for a 2019 vote,” Ball wrote. “No committees on either side of the issue had been formed during budget deliberations. A group interested in pursuing water options was loosely formed in the beginning of January 2019 and fully expected a non-binding referendum to be brought forward.”
She said proponents found out only days before a Jan. 17 special village council meeting that it was to approve a binding referendum. “Three days of notice of the vote does not translate into a year of planning,” Ball wrote.
Ball also admonished Florida Bulldog for outing some of the village’s uber wealthy property owners that stood to benefit from the referendum. “Cherry picking ‘wealthy’ people over many homeowners not on that category is another tool for dividing folks,” Ball wrote. “Fact checking would validate how many of the people not on county water are not in the same bracket as folks described in this article.”
In a follow-up email to Florida Bulldog, Ball said the bonds would have only paid for the installation of water lines and fire hydrants in areas that don’t have any. “The ‘hook-up’ refers to the connection between the house to the street where water lines are placed,” Ball said. “Every individual property is responsible for the costs of their ‘hook-up’.”
‘Never about a handout’
In 2014, when she was a council candidate, she lived in a home that was connected to the county’s water system and was advocating for neighbors whose houses were not, Ball added. She said she fought in favor of the referendum because it was the right thing to do. “This debate has been about policy and providing services, never about a handout,” she said. “That’s an easy excuse for folks who don’t wish to give the issue value.”
Harry Speizer, one of the residents who campaigned against the referendum, disputed Ball’s assertions, noting opponents did not have a political action committee that raised roughly $6,000 for promotions and advertising.
“It seems the strategy was a rush job to get it on a ballot,” Speizer told Florida Bulldog. “No one had a chance to set up formal opposition or a PAC. I am guessing their thought was, ‘maybe we can rush it through and then the problem will be solved.’”
Speizer said he believes a majority of voters ultimately realized the referendum was a tax on all residents that benefited a small crop of property owners.
Jim McDonald, the only council member who voted against holding the referendum, said he agrees with Corradino’s suggested approaches of pursuing a special taxing district or obtaining funding assistance from the county. “The voters sent a resounding message that Pinecrest is not in the business of providing water,” McDonald said. “I am sure the people who want water will regroup and figure out a way to move forward.”
He also said the acrimony from the campaign will eventually subside. “I think the divisions will pass,” McDonald said. “I don’t believe it is going to hurt the fabric of our community.”