Miami Beach commissioners agreed to lower the city’s 2013 tax rate Wednesday and voted to place several proposals on the November ballot, including one to strengthen preservation laws.
Commissioners set next year’s overall property tax rate at no higher than $6.369 per $1,000 of a home’s assessed value.
That’s about 1.5 percent lower than last year’s rate of $6.4539 and means that the owner of a home valued at $250,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption would see about $17 in savings in taxes paid to the city if their home value remained flat from last year.
However, homeowners whose properties rose in taxable value — the city’s values overall increased by five percent — could see an increase in Miami Beach taxes.
The tax rate set Wednesday is the rate that residents will see on their Truth in Millage notices which will be mailed out to help calculate their upcoming property taxes. The rate can be lowered during September’s budget hearings, but not increased.
The final tax rate and budget will be set on Sept. 27.
Early estimates suggest the city’s 2013 budget will be $253.8 million, and that commissioners are facing a $4.4 million budget gap.
The gap is created primarily by another year of an increase in the city’s pension obligations, according to Interim City Manager Kathie Brooks.
Wednesday’s vote to lower the tax rate brings the city’s budget hole to $5.3 million, but healthy tourism numbers could inject another $4 million in resort taxes into city coffers, and other increased revenues could quickly close the gap.
The city is also just beginning collective bargaining sessions with its five unions, and commissioners have said they want city employees to cut benefits in order to save the city money, particularly in pension costs.
Commissioners also voted Wednesday to place several proposals on the November ballot.
Miami Beach voters will decide whether to make the city clerk responsible to the city commission rather than the city manager.
Voters will also weigh wether to require a referendum for any change in law that reduces the powers of the Historic Preservation Board or weakens preservation regulations.
They will also decide issues related to commission candidates who qualify by petition rather than the city’s qualifying fee.
In other action Wednesday, commissioners:
• Approved advertising on half the city’s bike share kiosks in order to boost profits for its contractor, DecoBike.
By a 6 to 1 vote, with Mayor Matti Herrera Bower dissenting, the commission agreed to allow commercial ads on 40 DecoBike kiosks. Commissioners also voted to start a new, 10-year contract with DecoBike that dates retroactively to the beginning of the year.
The vote followed about a year of discussions with DecoBike, which said just a few months after opening operations in March 2011 that it wasn’t coming close to meeting revenue expectations from bicycle basket advertisements.
The company opened up its books to the city’s finance department and showed that owners had invested $3.7 million into the business, and lost $387,000 in 2011. The company expected to have more riders in 2012 - there were 125,000 DecoBike rides in March - but still lose $76,000 this year, according to the city.
“They’ve been very successful,” said Chief Financial Officer Patricia Walker. “However, they’re not making enough money.”
Bonifacio Diaz, co-owner of DecoBike, said his company needed additional advertising revenue, valued by the city at $211,000 a year, not in order to survive but in order to make a reasonable profit. He said DecoBike expanded its Miami Beach facilities by 200 percent at the request of the city, which led to an extra $2 million capital investment.
“If you invest over $3 million you want to see your money back,” said co-owner Bonifacio Diaz.
Bower said she opposed any expansion of advertising and worried that allowing DecoBike kiosk ads could weaken the city’s general ban on advertising. Legal staff said Bower’s concerns were legitimate, but explained that DecoBike ads could be justified by an exemption to the ban based on the funding of public facilities.
• Considered granting easements that will allow the Florida Department of Transportation to move forward with a $25.1 million streetscape project on Alton Road from Fifth Street to Michigan Avenue.
The project is expected to begin in April and take about two years. During construction, southbound traffic will detour onto West Avenue between 17th Street and Fifth Avenue.
Commissioners debated not signing FDOT’s needed easements to move forward with the project until the transit department agreed to place bicycle lanes on West Avenue and not Alton, but appeared to approve the easements out of fear that FDOT would pull funding for the project.