When we’re out of town and someone asks where we’re from, we pretty much all say we’re from Miami – a catch-all for our sprawling county that could mean anywhere from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean to the edge of the Everglades.
But a lot of us actually mean we’re from Miami Beach, South Miami, Coral Gables, or one of the other 34 municipalities within Miami-Dade County. Soon there might be a few new cities to throw into the mix, as the county considers a recommendation to incorporate or annex swathes of unincorporated Miami-Dade after a multi-year freeze on the process.
Editor’s note: The list of municipalities in the above paragraph has been corrected.
Incorporation means creating a new municipality (a city, borough, town, village, whatever), while annexing means joining an unincorporated area to an existing municipality.
For example, if the City of Miami (that big pink block in the middle in the map below) absorbed all of that neighboring white space as part of Miami, it would be annexing it. If that white block decided to become a new city of its own, it would be incorporated.
With a population of more than one million, 44 percent of the residents of Miami-Dade County live in that white space, aka unincorporated areas. But if the county heeds a consultant’s recommendation, a lot less of us will do so in the coming years.
Why would an area of unincorporated Miami-Dade want to become a new city or be part of an existing one? It boils down to self-governance and autonomy. When an area is a city, rather than just part of the county, it can take control of things like policing, zoning, and local parks and roads. Sometimes municipalities also have control over things like fire, water, and sewer facilities. Residents pay a city tax rather than a county tax. That’s attractive because people know their tax dollars are being spent on things that much more directly benefit them.
Some are still pretty big, like the City of Miami, which, with its roughly 400,000 residents and 55 square miles, is the largest municipality in Miami-Dade. It is followed by Hialeah, Miami Gardens, Miami Beach, North Miami and Coral Gables. Among the smallest are El Portal, Bal Harbour, and Biscayne Park.
The first few cities to be incorporated in Miami-Dade were Miami in 1896 and Miami Beach in 1915. The most recent were Miami Gardens and Doral in 2003 and Cutler Bay in 2005.
Why we stopped
In 1999, after the seemingly strategic incorporation of wealthier areas like Key Biscayne, Aventura, Pinecrest, and Sunny Isles beach, the county manager grew concerned that the tax base of unincorporated Miami-Dade wouldn’t be able to cover the costs of essential services.
A lot of new cities seemed to be creating enclaves, incorporating wealthier areas while leaving less affluent communities to county control — a troubling kind-of segregation.
The county also began to question if some of these new municipalities were financially viable – i.e. if their tax base could support the costs of operating on their own.
That’s why in 2007 commissioners put a five-year moratorium on creating any new cities until they could get a handle on the whole issue. That stopped incorporation efforts from places like Northeast Dade, West Kendall, and a neighborhood just south of Doral called Fontainebleu in their tracks.
Where we’re headed
In 2012 the moratorium was lifted, and two years later the county commissioned a study by consulting firm PMG Associates. That’s the study that was presented last week.
Ultimately, PMG recommended that all the land within the urban development boundary – which basically marks the point past which there can be no development for environmental protection – eventually be incorporated.
But it cautioned against “cherry-picking” — drawing the boundaries of newly incorporated areas to exclude low-income areas.
A lot remains to be settled, like what services the county should remain responsible for and who should pay for preparation for sea level rise. And this isn’t going to move fast. Incorporation is a long process, with a requirement that a residents committee consider it for at least two years before applying. Then it goes to the entire proposed area for a vote.
The process was about a decade longer than that for some residents at last week’s meeting, who got caught in the back and forth starting in 2007. And those residents — hailing from parts of Northeast Dade, Biscayne Gardens, parts of West Kendall, and Fontainebleu, a neighborhood in south Doral —will probably have to wait a bit longer. This was just the first meeting addressing the new recommendations.
A follow-up meeting was scheduled, and we’ll be there to keep you posted.