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Dolphins can pay for Sun Life renovations referendum

The Miami Dolphins had offered to reimburse Miami-Dade County for the cost of a public referendum requesting public funds for the renovation of Sun Life Stadium. Yesterday, the Florida state elections office cleared the plan for the team to pay back the county.

Chris Trotman

The Miami Dolphins and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez have spent the last few months negotiating a deal to allow the Dolphins to use public money to pay for a portion of the renovations for Sun Life Stadium. Stating that the site must have the upgrades in order to remain competitive for future Super Bowls, the Dolphins are attempting to get the funding in place before the NFL's owners meeting May 21-22, when the league will award Super Bowl 50 and 51.

Miami is considered a finalist for the 50th anniversary game, to be played in February 2016, but are competing against the San Francisco 49ers' new stadium being built in Santa Clara. Whichever of the two sites does not receive that game will then compete against the Houston Texans and Reliant Stadium for the 2017 game.

One of the requirements for the county to consider the Dolphins' proposal was a zero cost public referendum, allowing Miami-Dade residents to vote on the public funding from a one-cent increase in the hotel tax. The Dolphins had already offered the pay back the $3-5 million it is estimated a referendum would cost, but a question of legality for that reimbursement remained.

According to The Miami Herald's Patricia Mazzei and Douglas Hanks, the Florida state elections office issued a ruling yesterday that the Dolphins could repay the county for the election's cost.

"Miami-Dade County should not be forced to shoulder the cost of this election since it is being brought about by a request from a private party," Gimenez said in a statement after the state office's ruling. The Dolphins' have previously stated the same thing.

In the 1980s, a ruling stated that a private company could not fund an election. However, in 1992, the state modified the law to allow a private company to provide the money for an election, if both sides have interest in the results.

"The proposal under discussion shifts the cost of the election from the taxpayers to a private entity, while providing a transparent method of private financing that is in no way contingent upon the result of the election," wrote Maria Matthews, director of the division of elections at the Florida Department of State in the official ruling.

The Dolphins and the county have not yet officially come to an agreement, despite time for the public referendum to be held prior to the NFL meetings getting short. According to law, a non-binding resolution must be called 30 days prior to the election's scheduled date.

The two sides did not get back together on Friday after Thursday's negotiating period ended at 1am Friday morning.