Village officials ignore outreach and budget concerns of Key Biscayne residents

Big questions loom ahead of a key budget meeting, but Village of Key Biscayne officials have so far ignored attempts by concerned citizens to get more information ahead of the meeting. Since early July, a pair of emails from two different citizens have gone unanswered.

Meanwhile, more citizens have voiced their concerns and efforts to preserve Key Biscayne’s quality of life through both emails to neighbors and directly to the Islander newspaper. Those efforts, too, have largely been ignored by Village officials.

On July 2nd, Susana Braun sent a recap of the first Key Biscayne Neighbors Association (KBNA) meeting to the Islander, which published the email and highlighted the passionate turnout at the first KBNA meeting.

“I don’t have to emphasize the reason why we residents have moved to Key Biscayne and made it our home,” wrote Braun in the email. “The fact that we are a small community, where we greet and know our neighbors, raise our children, see them grow and become the great men and women they are, makes our island unique, and for this reason and with this purpose in mind is why Key Biscayne Neighbors Association was formed.”

While the grass-roots KBNA continues to gain momentum, other residents have made several attempts to get Village officials to engage in dialogue about several controversial budget line items.

On July 7th, The Islander published a letter from Dr. Josie Valdes-Hurtado, which raised a number of concerns about the budget and process. She then messaged Village councilmembers on July 18th to voice many of those same concerns about a property tax hike and spending issues, but only one Village Councilmember responded to the email.

That same day, another resident, Maria Rodriguez, sent a similar message that was also ignored. Rodriguez’s email to Village Council echoed similar concerns, but like the email from Valdes-Hurtado, it, too, went unanswered.

Both messages expressed concerns that Village Council had not provided transparent information about the budget, but instead pushed out slick marketing materials attempting to “sell” the budget to the public.

Those concerns also came through in a recent opinion-editorial submitted by former Mayor Mayra Pena Lindsay on July 27th. The letter is also reprinted below.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time in the history of our incorporation that a full proposed annual budget has not been made available to the Village Council and public so late in the year,” Linsay wrote. “Instead, our administration has produced a ‘Manager’s FY24 Strategy and Budget Estimate’ PowerPoint presentation with a ‘wish list’ and incomplete budget snippets.”

To date, neither the citizen outreach attempts nor public commentary have received any response from Village Council officials.

Opinion Editorial reprinted with permission from former Mayor Mayra Pena Lindsay:

It is July 24th, 2023, the Village of Key Biscayne does not have 2023-2024 proposed budget.

To my knowledge, this is the first time in the history of our incorporation that a full proposed annual budget has not been made available to the Village Council and public so late in the year.  Instead, our administration has produced a “Manager’s FY24 Strategy and Budget Estimate” PowerPoint presentation with a “wish list” and incomplete budget snippets.

Are these “best practices” for a public entity with an annual $ 38,000,000 operating budget and proposed budget of infrastructure projects in the $ 200 million range? NO!

Without a comprehensive, data driven budget with detailed line items our elected representatives and engaged public cannot fully participate in a data driven budgeting process.

Unfortunately, the Village Council has been put in a position to move forward, set the TRIM (TRuth In Millage) rate (the highest property tax rate the Council can adopt in September), and hold a Budget Workshop without the benefit of a full budget document to inform them and residents. Without a comprehensive proposed budget document, the Council cannot meaningfully act in its capacity as policy makers, fiduciaries, and a “check” on public spending.

A timely, data driven, transparent budget is at the core of good government and important to us as residents. We have historically encouraged an effective public engagement budget process to build trust within our community.

The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development “OECD” tasked with establishing evidence based international standards recommends the following best practices for budget transparency:

Clarity about the use of public funds is necessary so that public representatives and officials can be accountable for effectiveness and efficiency.

Public spending is vulnerable not only to waste and misuse, but also to fraud. “Sunlight is the best policy” for preventing corruption and maintaining high standards of integrity in the use of public funds.

Budget decisions can profoundly affect the interests and living standards of different people and groups in society; transparency involves an informed and inclusive debate about the budget policy impacts.

An open and transparent budget process fosters trust in society that people’s views and interests are respected, and that public money is used well.

Transparent and inclusive budgeting supports better fiscal outcomes and more responsive, impactful, and equitable public policies.

The Village of Key Biscayne does not meet these benchmarks and needs to do better.

I urge the Village administration to release a complete and detailed 2024 proposed Budget immediately and implement a meaningful public engagement budget process. Take the lead from the City of Coral Gables hold a public budget workshop and townhall prior to our First Budget Hearing scheduled for September 12, 2023.

It is important to continue to build credibility and trust within our community.

Mayra Pena Lindsay

Former Mayor of Key Biscayne


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