BRADENTON, Fla. — As Miami-Dade County prepares for a $361 million general obligation bond sale near the end of the month, Florida’s largest county is undergoing a top-down shake-up of government.
About 88% of voters, unhappy about budget decisions that led to property tax increases, ousted County Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Commissioner Natacha Seijas in a recall election Tuesday. Only 16% of eligible voters in the county cast ballots.
“The voters have spoken,” Alvarez said after a defeat that may end his 35-year career in politics. “No matter which side of the recall issue, one thing is certain: we all care very deeply about this community.”
In the next few weeks, commissioners will decide if they will appoint a mayoral replacement or hold a costly special election.
Alvarez’s recall campaign was backed by millionaire car dealer Norman Braman, who accused the mayor for giving top staffers and union members raises on the backs of taxpayers who are still suffering because of the lingering economic downturn.
County manager George Burgess resigned Wednesday, ending his eight-year run in the position. Assistant county manager Alina Tejeda Hudak, a 27-year veteran of the county, was appointed manager.
“There’s a point in time where you have to step down, so it’s either today or it’s 75 days from now,” Burgess said, adding that the next mayor would appoint a new management team. “This is not a joyous day for me.”
Burgess helped orchestrate the Building Better Communities campaign that led to passage of a $3 billion bond referendum in 2004, one of the largest in Florida’s history. County voters approved eight separate bond questions funding various infrastructure projects over 15 years.
A competitive bond sale expected to price near the end of the month includes $200 million of GOs connected to the Building Better Communities program. It also includes about $161 million of refunding bonds related to parks and the county’s seaport.
In rating the bonds Aa2 on Thursday, Moody’s Investors Service analyst John Incorvaia noted the recall election and subsequent resignation of Burgess.
He said the “abrupt management changes in key county positions” are significant, “although we expect the county to continue to operate effectively ... without a material impact on county daily operations.”
Moody’s assigns a negative outlook to Miami-Dade’s GOs due to the county’s “materially weakened financial condition, and continuing depressed economic indices,” Incorvaia said.
The county’s rating takes into account a “very substantial tax base and national and international identity” and “the severely weakened financial condition” of the county-owned Jackson Health Care System, he said. Jackson “could potentially require an additional county financial commitment which would weigh heavily on the county’s credit.” Miami-Dade issued bonds in 2009 and 2005 on behalf of Jackson Health and $368.5 million of principal remains outstanding.
The debt related to Jackson is subject to an intercept program in which the county receives revenue from a voter-approved health care sales tax. Under the program the revenue would be applied to debt service before the remaining balance is sent to the hospital system. The debt also receives a secondary covenant pledge from the county to annually budget and appropriate legally available, non-ad valorem revenue to maintain the required amounts in the debt-service reserve fund.
In a material-event notice Monday, the county said net revenue for the hospital debt failed to meet 110% of debt service as required by covenants for the second year in a row. As required by bond documents, a consultant, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, was hired to recommend ways to increase revenues.
“There has been no default in the timely payment of debt service on the bonds nor has there been any draw on the debt-service reserve fund,” and the bonds are insured, the notice said.