Council Discusses Transit Changes; Marijuana Dispensaries

   Homestead City Council discussed County changes to use of the    transportation surtax at its Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday April 10.

   County Commissioners agreed surtax funds from the half cent sales tax could be used for “first mile, last mile” programs and limited on demand transit services.

   First mile/last mile permits small local service to and from Metrorail and busway stations within a five mile radius. Cities would be permitted to use 20% of their funds for on-demand service allowing seniors or people with limited mobility to ride to and from stations no more than five miles away. City staff said twenty-eight municipalities in Miami-Dade currently sponsor trolley service that can be used.

   The amendments were sent to the County Transportation Committee for consideration before a second reading before the Commissioners. The Committee’s hearing is scheduled for April 19, before a second reading vote by County Commissioners.

   The Citizens’ Independent Transportation Trust (CITT) supports the amendments.

   “As long as this happens down here, I can support it,” said Councilman Jon Burgess. “I’m not happy with the County directing the expenditures because of their past record.”

   “The cities initiated these changes for more flexibility,” said City Manager George Gretsas.

   “We don’t have a transit system that works for us now, not until they figure out what to do with the transit programs,” said Mayor Jeff Porter. “It’s getting closer but they keep moving the timeline. At least it’s coalescing around leadership in the south with mayors beginning to move away from insistence on heavy rail.”

   Councilman Elvis Maldonado asked for cost projections for the two programs locally and said, “This is headed in the right direction.”

  “Is there a way for Council to manifest support?” asked Manager Gretsas. “The bulk of our PTP funds will go to pay off the parking garage and the transit center,” he added.

   Councilman Larry Roth said, “It’s complicated. If we come up with new programs, we have to be prepared to execute them. Manager Gretsas said the cities were more likely to come up with pilot programs before the County.

   The Mayor asked Council members to get comments to the City Manager who would write a letter to the Commissioners expressing Council’s thoughts.

   The other contentious agenda item was the temporary moratorium on medical marijuana facilities. The City Attorney’s office recited the legislative history of the issue, including Homestead’s one year moratorium on the issue in February of 2017. That moratorium was extended in February 2018 to study the state rules and any legislative changes.

   The City Attorney said municipalities have little control over the cultivation, growing or manufacture of medical marijuana. They can exercise control over the marijuana dispensaries.

   One option is to allow dispensaries although the state says they can only be regulated like normal pharmacies, The aggressive so-called “nuclear” option would be for the City to say No to everything but that position has not be tested in court.

   “I don’t think we should allow dispensaries,” said Councilman Burgess. “The ‘nuclear’ option leads to litigation so we don’t want that. Just don’t allow dispensaries.”

   Council discussion raised the point the cultivation businessmen were nervous because the federal government still was opposed on the issue. Staff also said there was little space in the City to provide cultivation space.

Mayor Porter asked if any Council members had a contrary position to the prohibition of dispensaries. The consensus was that all concurred in that position.

   The City Attorney asked for time to draft proper amendments to the City Code for consideration at the next meeting.   Prior to the COW meeting, Council approved the CRA awards of non-profit grants to six organizations.

Nine groups applied for program support under this year’s $150,000 budget.

Grants were given to the Homestead Soup Kitchen for $10,000, the Mexican American Council $32,000, the Greater Miami Youth for Christ $34,500, the Seminole Theatre for $34,300 for summer programming, Le Jarden Community Center at $26,000 and the Miami Bridge Youth & Family Services at $13,000.

   The charter school company ASPIRA approached Council for a cost waiver for use of the Phicol Williams Center for graduation exercises on June 1 for both kindergarten and 8th Grade. Councilman Maldonado offered to pay the fee, and was joined by Councilwoman Patricia Fairclough and Councilman Burgess.

   A limited licensing agreement was approved to extend the Gang Alternative program at the Police Athletic League. The Children’s Trust funds the program annually, passing the monies through the police SOS unit, for after school programs the year. Councilwoman Fairclough asked about the assistance the approximately one hundred and ten children are given and suggested the group supplement its ten computers for better access.

   In other business, an agreement with Florida Spectrum Environmental Services was approved for laboratory testing of Homestead’s water at an annual cost of $119,000 that met state testing requirements. Council also voted to spend $116,279 to replace an engine at the power plant.

Council also approved significant roof repairs to City buildings from Hurricane Irma, amounting to $386,850.

   Purchase of several police vehicles was approved through the state discount program that has the City dealing with large dealers as local dealers cannot match the prices.

   A larger catwalk with railing was approved for the Wittkop Water Treatment Facility for $39,980