The Miami Herald

Miami-Dade Commission lowers property-tax rate, delays vote on proposed charter amendments

Miami-Dade commissioners on Tuesday lowered the property-tax rate for the coming fiscal year, approving the rate put forth last week by Mayor Carlos Gimenez as part of his proposal for a leaner budget.

Separately, commissioners delayed a scheduled vote on a slew of proposed charter amendments, saying they felt too rushed to decide whether to place the questions before voters in November.

They agreed to push their decision to Aug. 23, which still leaves enough time for the amendments to be printed on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Commissioners spent about two hours on Tuesday discussing the overall county tax rate, which they set at 2 percent lower than the current year. They will be able to further shrink, but not raise, the rate when they vote on the 2012-13 county budget after two public hearings in September.

Gimenez proposed a tax rate of $9.55 for every $1,000 of taxable property. In general, that means in an unincorporated area like Kendall, the owner of a $250,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption would pay about $38 less in taxes to the county than last year.

Homeowners whose property values rose more than the nearly 2 percent countywide increase, however, may see a slight uptick in their county taxes, which make up only a portion of their total tax bill.

“Public safety services, library — all those services will remain the same,” Gimenez said. His hold-the-line budget proposal also sets aside money in case commissioners eliminate an additional healthcare contribution imposed on employees, forcing the county to fund the difference.

Commissioner Jean Monestime proposed leaving the tax rate flat for residents of unincorporated areas, a move that would have brought in about $4 million more in revenue to provide heightened services to those neighborhoods.

Commissioners Audrey Edmonson, Barbara Jordan and Dennis Moss initially agreed. But in the end, perhaps fearing being misrepresented as tax-hikers, none of them voted against the Gimenez plan. All three face reelection in August.

Though the county will lower its property-tax rate, under state law it will have to post a notice of “tax increase.” That’s because the county will be receiving more in total tax revenues than last year, given the higher property values.

Still, Gimenez’s proposed $5.9 billion budget is down from nearly $6.2 billion last year, because of savings from a government reorganization and past cuts, he said.

“That, to me, is a tax reduction,” Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz said.

Yet Chairman Joe Martinez, Gimenez’s top reelection rival, reminded his colleagues that the state will regard the county’s action as raising taxes.

“This is a tax increase,” he said.

The commission voted 10-3 for the Gimenez property-tax rate. Diaz, Edmonson, Jordan, Moss and Commissioners Lynda Bell, Esteban Bovo, Sally Heyman, Javier Souto, Rebeca Sosa and Xavier Suarez voted in favor. Martinez, Monestime and Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, who is also up for reelection, voted against.

Earlier Tuesday, commissioners pushed back the charter-amendments vote, giving themselves more time to propose revisions and make up their minds on which questions, if any, to put forth for the Nov. 6 election.

“It’s really unfair to the citizens of Miami-Dade County that we make rash decisions here to put something on a ballot,” Martinez said.

After months of stalling on charter reform, commissioners created a charter review task force in March — and agreed to put any proposal supported by two-thirds of the task force members directly onto the ballot.

Four of the task force’s 16 recommendations met that threshold, including a controversial proposal to remove almost all commission input into the creation of new cities, and raising commissioners’ salaries to the county’s median income beginning in 2016.

But commissioners were not legally bound to accept even those recommendations — and on Tuesday, they made clear that they consider some of them flawed.

“At the end of the day, the buck stops with us,” said Bell, one of several commissioners who has filed revisions. “There are some very damaging items here.”

Other commissioners, however, said the board should not back away from its pledge to approve questions with strong task-force support.

“I don’t think it serves us well now to start poking holes into all the recommendations,” Bovo said. “It just lends itself to the same argument of the past — that the commission either stonewalled it, rejected it, tried to block it.”

Commissioners voted 7-6 to delay the vote. Commissioners Bell, Diaz, Edmonson, Martinez, Moss, Souto and Suarez voted in favor of the delay; Commissioners Barreiro, Bovo, Heyman, Jordan, Monestime and Sosa voted against.

They scheduled a special meeting for Aug. 23 to discuss all 16 recommendations, including those that did not receive approval from 14 of the 20 task force members. Those questions range from eliminating the requirement to notarize petition forms but requiring that recall petitions specify a reason for the recall, to restricting the mayor’s authority to veto decisions resolving collective bargaining impasses.

An amendment limiting commissioners to two four-year terms is already on the November ballot.




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