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9/10/03 - Miami Herald

Big bond issue likely to go to voters

By Karl Ross

Miami-Dade voters will have a chance to decide on a billion-dollar public works bond issue next year, following six months of community meetings to decide how the money would be spent.

At the urging of Mayor Alex Penelas, the Miami-Dade County Commission on Tuesday agreed to support an outreach campaign that could culminate with a referendum vote in November 2004.

The county could issue as much as $1.6 billion in bonds, officials said.

It would be Miami-Dade's first major bond issue in more than 30 years. That Decade of Progress program funded Metrozoo, Metrorail and scores of other capital projects.

Commissioners also instructed County Manager George Burgess to prepare a timetable for holding public hearings to gather input and set priorities for the massive spending plan.

Penelas stepped in Tuesday as Commissioner Jimmy Morales sponsored a proposal for $200 million worth of bonds to finance the construction of a new Museum of Science and planetarium.

At Penelas' urging, supporters decided to withdraw it.

Penelas called for a ''bottom-up, grass-roots approach'' to the voter awareness campaign, similar to the one that last year led to the passage of the half-penny transit tax.

He said he envisioned a six-month process of community meetings, leading up to a final summit at which dollar amounts could be assigned to specific areas.