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On the heels of Gables Insider exposing high raises and Executive Benefits Packages given to City administrative staff, City Manager Peter Iglesias stated at the Wednesday, October 19th Historic Preservation Board Meeting, that the City has “a number of issues, financial issues, to really deal with.”
The comments came as the volunteer resident board discussed the City’s proposal to sell transfer development rights (TDRs) in the equivalent of 48,235 square feet from Miracle Theatre, in order to create revenue for preservation of historic buildings.
According to staff’s memo to the board, “the funds obtained from the sale of the TDRs will be placed in the new Historic Building Fund. This fund will be used to undertake repairs to City-owned historic sites including, but not limited to, the Miracle Theater.” No financial figure was provided for the expected sale amount.
City Manager’s Comments
The Manager, who normally does not attend or speak at these meetings, interjected during the board’s discussion and questions of Public Works Director Hermes Diaz and Historic Preservation Director Warren Adams, when the board asked about maintenance of Miracle Theatre and the purpose of the sale of the TDRs.
The Manager explained that, “we’ve created the historical building fund to try to get some of the TDR funding to help us during a critical time in the City, because we’re trying to get a few projects done, including major projects, as you know, which is the new fire station, which is a real life safety issue. It’s a public safety issue, but at the same time, we certainly want to maintain our historical buildings.”
Although Iglesias stated that the TDR sales funds would be placed in the historical building fund, he then contradicted himself by stating that the money was needed for the construction of a new fire station.
Iglesias Blames Pension
Iglesias then proceeded to blame the administration of former City Manager Pat Salerno for the issues he was facing. “Our pension plan costs about $30 million dollars a year, where if we were fully funded $4.3 million dollars a year. We should be taking care of that within the next 7 to 12 years.”
Iglesias was referring to the City’s unfunded liability which started during the David Brown and Pat Salerno tenures as Manager.
He continued, “I look at this as getting us through this period as a bridge for the City during these times, where we really have a number of issues, financial issues, to really deal with.” Iglesias later added that the sale of TDRs would “help us bridge these few years of difficult times.”
This is the first time Iglesias confirms what Gables Insider has been explaining for years, that the City is dealing with financial troubles. Iglesias and his team have been telling residents and the Commission that there were no issues.
In fact, at the May 10th City Commission meeting, Commissioner Kirk R. Menendez defended Iglesias and stated with no uncertain terms that the City had no financial problems, following a Gables Insider article about the sale of the City owned lot in front of Doctor’s Hospital. Yet, five months later, Iglesias is stating that there are a number of financial issues, disproving Menendez.
Gables Insider has reported on the City’s questionable financial standing on several occasions. Over the last two years, the City has been “forced to sell” two parking lots (Greco and Doctor’s) and now resident owned TDRs to make up the difference, while the Manager presents the Commission with a top heavy raise package in the City’s 2022-2023 budget.
While other municipalities freeze Manager-led initiatives and bring in private auditors to investigate their municipal finances to ensure no malfeasance; the Mayor and Commission have turned a blind eye and gone as far as staging a vote of confidence on the Manager, with the Vice Mayor ensuring him that his job would remain safe while he was on the dais.
Sources at City Hall have informed Gables Insider that the Sunshine Meeting to be held with the purpose of discussing the Manager’s raises and Executive Benefits Packages issued to 54 administrative staff members will not be taking place anytime soon.
Shade Meeting Over Transparency
Instead, Mayor Vince Lago, who campaigned on transparency, has requested a shade meeting to ensure the matter is discussed away from the public eye. He did so during the October 11th City Commission meeting. The shade meeting is tentatively scheduled for November 9th, the date of the next City Commission meeting. A Sunshine Meeting was supposed to follow on a different date, but sources explain that none has been planned. City Attorney Miriam Soler Ramos had stated at the Commission meeting that the matter could not be discussed in a shade meeting, but Gables Insider has learned that she has since agreed a shade meeting would be appropriate, under the guise of secrecy for union negotiations.
Gables Insider has learned that the meeting has been scheduled for November, instead of sooner as had been requested by Commissioner Jorge L. Fors, Jr., due to the Budget Director’s 10-day trip in Europe.
Iglesias mentioned the creation of a new fund for maintenance and renovations of historic buildings. This is where the TDR sale funds are projected to go.
The movement of funds from one designated fund to another has been a cause for concern for some residents in the past. At the October 3rd Budget hearing, resident Maria Cruz brought up her concerns with the funds that should have been in the City Hall renovation fund.
The Budget Director confirmed, at that meeting, that there had been over $7 million in that fund. However, that fund only has a little over $50,000 today.
In response to Cruz’s comment, Finance Director Diana Gomez explained that the funds were not for City Hall renovations and rather for the renovations of the “City Hall Complex.” She explained the complex included the 427 Biltmore Way building, which is currently being renovated.
A simple search of the City of Coral Gables Commission meetings yielded only one instance when the term “City Hall Complex” was used, it was in 2017, but was not referencing these funds.
City Hall has only seen roof repairs, and they were in the ballpark of $600,000, high even in this construction market.
Renovations Too Late
The City has been negligent in its maintenance of many of its historic structures. City Hall has long been infested with mold and the Manager has taken no action to address it. The Alhambra Water Tower is in serious disrepair. The Gondola building collapsed earlier this year, even though Commissioner Rhonda Anderson had instructed the Manager to take emergency measures to prevent a collapse a few months before.
The Manager has provided the Commission with a Capital Improvement Plan, which has the Water Tower five years down the road and City Hall at least three. At this rate, the historic structures may not be usable, have collapsed or condemned by the City’s Centennial in 2025.