“We’ve got some of the finest, highest quality luxury condos going up in the country,” Christopher Russo, Sunny Isles’ city manager said. “It’s not a surprise. We are fortunate of where we are located.”
Russo said staff is still working on the next fiscal year’s budget, but some of the extra revenues would be used to finance existing capital improvement projects such as the Gateway Park, Intracoastal Park, an emergency pedestrian bridge running north-south between 174th and 172nd streets and upgrades for Samson Oceanfront Park. The bigger tax base will also be used to decrease the millage rate, he predicted.
The oceanfront and upscale urban areas typically fared better than the western and southern suburbs. Miami Beach saw assessed values climb a solid 6.87 percent.
Meanwhile, Florida City in the southern end of the county continued to suffer from the real-estate bust, with its taxable value shrinking 5.58 percent to $414.59 million for 2013. Finance director, Mark Ben-Asher, suspects that the drop is due primarily to declines in the value of commercial property. The bottom line is that lower assessed values mean lower tax revenues for the city.
While short on specifics, Ben-Asher said, “We’re going to have to tighten our belts.”
That belt-tightening could include searching for ways to streamline administrative functions, such as consolidating vacant positions and changing purchasing practices, or delaying capital improvement projects.
“Everything is on the table,” Ben-Asher said. but he noted that layoffs and furloughs are options of last resort after dipping into reserves and that the city hasn’t had to lay anyone off in his 21-year tenure.
However, Florida City police officers, as well as other city staff members, may have to wait another year for a salary increase.
“We’re not looking to increase salaries at the very time we’re losing tax revenues,” Ben-Asher said, describing negotiations with the police union as “an evolving process.”
Hialeah’s taxable value declined 3.5 percent, marking the sixth consecutive year it has fallen and leaving a tax base of $6.97 billion.
Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez, who acts as the city’s administrator under a strong-mayor government, said Monday he anticipates another tough budget season.
“We’ll just have to tighten our belts again,” he said, noting budget preparations are ongoing and he doesn’t plan on raising property taxes. He said the city will look into ways to be more efficient without impacting services too much.
“We’re working to make sure that this has as minimum an effect as possible on the services for our citizens,” he said.
Lopez-Cantera said that part of Hialeah’s decrease can be attributed to a new additional homestead exemption for low-income seniors.
Lopez-Cantera, former Florida House Majority Leader who took office in January after beating incumbent Pedro Garcia in the November election, is urging property owners with concerns over valuations to talk directly with staff in his office.
“If a property owner believes their property is over assessed, a new individual assessment review process is now available to property owners as well as an informal assessment review form that can be accessed online,” Lopez-Cantera said in a statement. “By using these procedures, property owners will be able to avoid a lengthy appeal process with the Value Adjustment Board that can take more than a year to finalize.’’
Miami Herald staff reporters Patricia Mazzei and Joey Flechas and freelance reporters Lidia Dinkova, Daniel Ducassi and Rodolfo Roman contributed to this report.