Nearly 27,000 people work for the county. Miami-Dade has 308,828 homeowners in its unincorporated areas. The county’s operating budget is about $4.3 billion. County Hall is an imposing, 29-floor high-rise.
“In the county, people and their problems get lost in the shuffle,” said Walker, who when he isn’t in his cramped office can often be spotted walking the tiny, 75-year-old village.
The difference in the quality of life between El Portal and West Little River — two communities that practically share a ZIP code — is glaring. During his drive through the district, Monestime said he backs cityhood efforts.
“There is no other district with a worse quality of life,” he said.
But improved services would require higher taxes — a move the county is unwilling to make and residents in some unincorporated areas do not support.
Fear of more taxes
Among them is Deborah Lamb, 63, who has lived for 42 years in The Falls, one of the more affluent unincorporated neighborhoods in the county. Some in her community have pushed to become their own city, or to join neighboring Palmetto Bay, which last month celebrated its 10th anniversary.
But Lamb is perfectly happy with the services she receives in unincorporated Miami-Dade, including police presence. Pro-incorporation activists often cite a desire for more police patrols as a reason to create new cities.
“Robberies, car break-ins — it happens everywhere,” she said.
Lamb fears living in a city would mean paying excessive property taxes.
“Most people in our area are older and live on fixed incomes, and Citizens’ [property insurance] is beating us to death,” Lamb said. “Cities eventually raise taxes to pay for street signs or whatever.”
City residents almost always pay higher property tax rates than those in unincorporated communities. Cities typically form because residents want more services — increased police patrols, for example, or more parks — and those services are expensive.
When Miami Gardens became a city, its new leaders emphasized creating its own police department, a particularly costly proposition. Since the city incorporated in 2003, its tax rate has almost tripled to $6.36 from $2.44 for every $1,000 of taxable property. Despite the jump, apparently satisfied residents have generally reelected the city’s leaders.
Doral, which also became a city in 2003, contracts with the county for policing services and has been saving money to eventually form its own department. This year, the city was able to bank $7.5 million toward a new department, yet the city has not raised its tax rate since incorporating.
Still, residents of unincorporated areas pay lower property taxes.
This year, the owner of a home in Miami valued at $200,000 with a standard homestead exemption would pay $1,814.50 in property taxes, while the owner of a home with the same value in an unincorporated neighborhood would pay $1,432.80. Both homeowners pay a county tax rate, but city residents pay an additional city tax rate. Unincorporated area residents pay an additional county tax rate for the unincorporated municipal service area, or UMSA.
Historically, that tax rate has remained low. This year’s rate, $1.93 for every $1,000 of taxable property, means if unincorporated Dade were a city, homeowners would have the lowest tax rate of any municipality in the county.