Two cities on Florida’s southeast coast are moving forward climate adaptation with the passage of general obligation bond referendums earmarked for resiliency projects. In Miami Beach passage of Referendum 5 allows the city to raise $198 million to improve the City’s neighborhoods and infrastructure, including stormwater and flooding mitigation projects, sidewalk and street renovation and repairs, protected bicycle lanes, pedestrian paths, landscaping and lighting. The projects outline in Referendum 5, along with Referendum 6 for public safety and Referendum 4 for improvements to parks, recreational and cultural facilities will add approximately $82 for every $100,000 in taxable property value. See https://thenewtropic.com/miami-beach-referenda-go-bond/ They are following in the footsteps the City of Miami, that in 2018 approved $400 million in bonds for resiliency project.
Likewise, in Key Biscayne, voters approved a $100 million general obligation bond, of which $40 million is earmarked for addressing sea level rise and flooding, the remaining amount to be used for beaches and shorelines, as well as moving infrastructure underground to better withstand hurricanes. Opponents to Key Biscayne’s bond referendum was vocally criticized it as a “blank check” that doesn’t specify the project it would fund. Although each project funded would require a 5-2 city council approval vote, opponents preferred that any project to be funded should be “shovel ready projects. The challenge with this approach is that funding is needed for project planning. Also, large infrastructure projects take years to implement and conditions change in concert with evolving climate scenarios. Finally, climate projects are not necessarily, one-off projects. Some must be implemented together or sequentially to have the desired resiliency impact. Not having dedicated funding to advance the entire vision could jeopardize the total project, as political will vacillates with each administration.
While raising property taxes, especially against the specter of the pandemics, is viewed by some as harsh and unfair, recent analysis conducted by the Urban Land Institute, in collaboration with the Southeast Florida Climate Change Compact demonstrated that the investments are fiscally prudent. The Business Case for Resilience in Southeast Florida, released in October 2020, found that community-wide adaptation approaches can offer $37.9 Billion in economic benefits for the 4-county region, and support 85,000 job-years. In other words, for every $1 invested in projects such as seawall construction, beach and dune restoration, and raising roadways, the region sees a $2 benefit. These estimates are actually conservative, as the study included Monroe County, alongside Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, and Monroe County’s Benefit-Cost ratio was less favorable.
What we observe on Florida’s east coast should be carefully considered by leaders in our region. As Southwest Florida begins to more seriously consider climate impacts, including the potential property depreciation that is already documented in some coastal communities, leaders will have to evaluate the best way to finance adaptation projects. Given the fiscally conservative, small government preferences of SWFL voters, our cities may not be able to garner support for general obligation bond funding. Would a fee-based approach be more acceptable? Perhaps an assessment on properties within a special district. City leadership ought to survey and study our resident’s perception of climate risk and vulnerability to both craft an approach and a message that resonates and is politically acceptable.