Melissa Castro is City of Coral Gables commissioner and a Specialist in Behavior Analysis and Industrial Organizational Psychology.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for a candid conversation about the state of affairs in Coral Gables, our beloved community. What I’m about to share is more than just facts. This is an “un-masking”. And it’s a passionate plea to read this article and understand the political games being played with our city’s future.
The truth: the mayor is attempting to dismantle capital projects dear to residents. In darkness, he is proposing a plan to slash or kill budgets for needed improvements that define us, enrich our lives, and preserve neighborhoods. These projects, like pieces of art, are integral to our city’s identity.
Here are some of them in his plan:
• Burger Bobs – Granada Golf Course Diner Renovations:
A place where we’ve shared countless meals and stories now at risk
Defunded by $721,737, a 50% reduction
• New Sidewalk Installations:
The pathways where we push strollers, children play, and neighbors connect
Defunded by $500,000, a 100% reduction, killing the project
• Citywide Traffic Calming Program:
A project that ensures our safety and quality of life
Defunded by $600,280, a 50% reduction
• City Hall Complex Improvements:
The heart of our civic identity and our most precious historical gem
Defunded by $600,000
• Coral Gables Country Club Improvements:
A place of recreation and togetherness
Defunded $350,000, a 75% reduction
• Philips Park Renovation and Enhancement:
A cornerstone of our community
Defunded by $2 million, a 50% reduction
• ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Remediation:
Ensuring accessibility for all
Defunded by $100,000, a 100% reduction, killing the project
And many more… a total of 26 out of 37 projects we hold dear, teetering on the edge of oblivion. All this sacrifice in exchange for an average annual savings of $215 per homeowner under the mayor’s 7.5% millage rate reduction option!
Hopefully now you can see why I support keeping the millage at its current rate.
Here are some more facts. Among the 34 municipalities in Miami-Dade County which have their own Fire and Police Services (Full-Service Cities), Coral Gables boasts the second-lowest millage rate at 5.559%. Key Biscayne holds the top spot. However, let’s not forget that Key Biscayne operates its government differently, devoid of pension obligations.
The mayor’s true intention emerges from the shadows like a cunning fox seeking a chance to brag before the commission. He wants us to believe he’s the lone champion of lower property taxes while the rest of us supposedly oppose it. The groundwork for his reelection campaign ads is being laid as we speak. But the reality is stark; this plan isn’t feasible or in the best interest of our residents. Under his proposed millage rate reduction, over 50% of our cherished capital projects would die.
Previous commission meetings reveal his true intentions. Initially, he had no concrete plan to lower the millage rate, expecting us to do his dirty work and cut capital projects. On September 7th, a memo was sent to commission members with his absurd proposal, one he avoided discussing openly because he knew it spelled disaster for our city, and for him, especially if the residents found out.
One thing the mayor is standing firm on: he has no desire to touch the pensions or the city reserves. Fast-tracking pension liability payments and keeping reserves high (the city has more than $50 Million in reserves!) is reportedly the “legacy” he wants to be known for after he leaves office.
That’s why his plan only includes cuts to capital projects that we cherish so much.
To ensure his “legacy”, he has a resolution on the commission agenda for a vote at our next meeting this Tuesday, September 26th, aiming to make it harder to tap into the reserves. He is doing this to counter a proposal Commissioner Fernandez presented to use 20% of the reserves, fill in the difference with an equity line of credit, and fully fund the Alhambra Water Tower Restoration, City Hall Window Replacement, Sidewalk Repairs, Biltmore Way Streetscape Tree Canopy, and the creation of a pickleball facility at Parking Garage 4. Let’s be realistic… how much longer are we going to have to wait for these projects?
As someone not born into the world of politics, I’m learning the game all too quickly, and it’s disheartening. In recent weeks, the mayor has faced setbacks, notably the failed attempt to move the election to November, a loss attributed to Commissioner Kirk Menendez’ opposition. The Mayor and Vice Mayor have resorted to sabotage, even targeting community-based projects like the Philips Park renovation that are close to Commissioner Menendez’ heart.
It’s painful to wonder: could vindictiveness and revenge truly overshadow the mandate to serve the people and the best interests of the residents? Instead of genuine commitment, it’s all about political maneuvering, executed with a strategic precision that beguiles. But I stand here to unveil this charade, armed with the tools to expose this farce.
Rumors are swirling that we’ve increased property taxes, forsaken historic preservation, and redirected funds from monuments to Philips Park. Allow me to clarify: none of this is true. In the upcoming commission meeting, “they” will once again attempt to defund Philips Park, casting me as unsupportive of historic preservation. But the truth is far more complex, and I’m committed to shedding light on it. I stand strong and I will not stand for bullying and vindictive manipulation. They are trying to divide and destroy the community using City of Miami-style politics and tactics.
I will not stand down as they try to undermine and punish Commissioner Menendez because he didn’t vote the way the Vice Mayor and Mayor wanted.
Join me in support of Commissioner Menendez as he has shown continued courage and integrity against a constant barrage of political threats and deception launched by Mayor Lago and Vice Mayor Anderson that threaten our city’s future and the well-being of our residents.
Please tell Mayor Lago and Vice Mayor Anderson that their actions must come to an end.
In ending, I will not support proposals that threaten to dismantle our city’s core. It’s time to stand united and unveil the truth behind these political maneuvers.
Coral Gables deserves leadership that prioritizes residents and the will of the people.
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