Fort Lauderdale residents will get the chance to vote on two bond questions for city parks and police, totaling $300 million.
City commissioners voted during a regular meeting Tuesday night to place both general obligation bonds on a ballot for a special election scheduled for March 12, 2019. The first question will ask for $200 million to go toward park improvements. The second asks for $100 million to build a new police station in the city.
If approved, the bonds would give the city the ability to borrow money for the projects. Residents will pay for them in the form of property tax increases.
The special election would cost the city $325,000, according to a commission memo. But that number doesn't include an official estimate from the Broward Supervisor of Elections Office.
Fort Lauderdale resident Robert Walsh came to the meeting for public comment. He asked commissioners to not scare taxpayers and to only ask voters for a new police station.
“I would put the parks on the back burner,” he said. “I would go for just $100 million for the new police station…I just think it’s too much money at once.”
Charlie King, a Victoria Park resident who frequently comments at commission meetings, took an opposite stance.
“I live here, I pay taxes,” King said to commissioners. “I really don’t care what the inside of the police station is like.”
The last general obligation bond that the city asked voters to approve, was a $40-million bond in 2004 to build 10 fire stations. Voters said yes, but the city still hasn’t completed all of the stations. The city auditor, John Herbst, said that was due to a failure to account for inflation.
A few days before the vote, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said he wasn't sure if the city is asking taxpayers to approve the right amount of money for parks.
"My only concern about the park bond is that I don't know whether we have sharpened our pencils enough with regard to the total amount," he said. "The list of projects is about 18 months old."
That list, 30 pages long, includes fixing public sea walls and adding solar panels to many of the parks. It also would add more crosswalks, signs, benches, playground equipment, lighting and a parking garage in Holiday Park.
Charlie King said he is happy parks are getting fixed up but asked commissioners to be careful how they spend the money.
“A parking garage isn’t what we asked for Christmas this year,” King said. “Holiday Park is ignored...we want stuff for our kids and we want stuff that’s not going to be a homeless magnet. Designed in a way that’s for families.”
But when it came to the proposed new police station, Trantalis said he’s worried $100 million is too much borrowing capacity.
“My concern is that we’re rushing into this,” he said.
Vice Mayor Ben Sorensen expressed his support for the bond that would pay for a 165,000-square-foot police station. The goal would be to get it open and running by 2021.
“I think it’s important, I think we need to move forward,” he said.
City resident and developer Jim Ellis asked the commissioners to not delay.
“You need to start this process. If you don’t, we’ll be here for another 20 years,” Ellis said. “It would appear that now is a good time to ask the public…It’s so far overdue. We voted you in because we trust you.”