Baños is the Editor of Gables Insider
The Coral Gables City Commission concluded its final meeting of the year, tackling a range of pressing issues that have been under review, with discussions revealing the city’s determination to address key concerns amidst a few heated debates.
Gables Education Initiative
Central to the meeting was the adoption of the School Community Relations Committee’s Gables Education Initiative into the city’s strategic plan. This resolution, aimed at transforming Coral Gables into a ‘City Brilliant’, marks a significant shift towards enhancing educational excellence. The Commission is looking to engage with Miami Dade county school board representatives and is planning a citizen workshop in the upcoming year. This initiative is part of a broader strategy to involve citizens in shaping the city’s future, particularly in implementing the ambitious goals now embedded in the city’s strategic plan.
The Commission also turned its attention to street lighting, a matter of considerable interest to the community. At the request of Commissioner Fernandez, there was a call for further collaboration with Florida Power & Light (FPL) to address the issue of obstructively tall lights near the Granada Golf Course and the replacement of others throughout the city. Mayor Lago underscored the importance of maintaining and cleaning existing light poles, emphasizing this effort as crucial to the city’s beautification. Furthermore, the Commission approved a significant investment of $308,414.00 for the restoration, repair, and replacement of historic White Way Lights, integral to preserving the city’s aesthetic heritage.
Litle Gables Annexation
Another critical topic was the proposed annexation of Little Gables, which the Commission decided to put to a public vote in the August 2024 County elections. This decision, expected to cost approximately $18,000.00, allows residents to have the final say on this contentious issue, although Mayor Lago and Vice Mayor Anderson had initially preferred a decision by the Commission.
The most emotionally charged segment of the meeting concerned the cost-of-living adjustment for the pensions of city retirees. Many former city employees, primarily elderly, made heartfelt appeals for an increase in benefits, which have remained unchanged for over a decade. Their stories of financial hardship and health issues resulting from their service were moving. However, the city faces a dilemma with its pension fund, struggling to fulfill its existing obligations while managing a significant unfunded liability. The suggestion of a cost-of-living adjustment, though morally compelling, was deemed financially imprudent by some Commissioners due to the potential increase in the city’s liability by approximately $27 million.
In a bid to find a middle ground, Commissioners Menendez and Castro proposed repurposing a portion of the budgeted additional pension payments to grant a one-time payment of $2,500.00 to each retiree in 2023. This compromise aimed to provide some relief to the retirees amidst rising inflation. However, after multiple votes on various proposals, the Commission could not even agree on a reduced single payment of $1,300.00, falling short of the 4/5 vote needed for the more modest benefit. This inability to reach a consensus resulted in the denial of the cost-of-living increase and other proposed benefits, culminating in a session marked by frustration and disappointment among the retirees, some expressing their discontent vocally and vividly.
The meeting concluded with the Commission extending holiday greetings, wrapping up a year of significant decisions and highlighting the challenges of governance in addressing the diverse needs of our dynamic city.