Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez on Monday backed off entirely from a property-tax rate hike he had proposed a mere six days earlier, saying dissatisfied commissioners and angry residents prompted him to change his mind.
On Tuesday, Gimenez will recommend that commissioners keep most portions of the property-tax rate flat, increasing only the part that pays for big-ticket construction projects approved by voters.
“People are not in favor of any increased taxes, in any way, shape or form,” Gimenez told the Miami Herald. “I’m not deaf. I can hear the sentiment.”
As a result of his reversal, the mayor’s administration outlined deep cuts and 400 layoffs at fire-rescue and library services, two departments that will be the most directly affected by not raising the tax rate.
The worst-case scenario would require eliminating six fire units and laying off 149 fire-rescue workers. An administrative reorganization would eliminate two division chiefs, 14 chief fire officers and a number of civilian jobs. Sworn firefighters working in administrative roles would be returned to responding to service calls.
As for libraries, 10 storefronts and up to 12 branch libraries would be shut down, and operating hours reduced across the board. There would be 251 layoffs.
The cuts may not wind up being that steep, depending on other savings the county may find between now and the beginning of the fiscal year on Oct. 1. The cuts would require approval from commissioners, who are likely to push for scaled-back trims in their districts.
Fire-rescue and library services are funded from property taxes separate from the general fund. Their budgets faced a hole this year because they had been operating the past two years using leftover funds from years prior.
In a letter Monday, Rowan Taylor, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1403, urged commissioners to approve the higher fire-rescue tax rate.
“The Fire Department has been quietly operating on bare bones for the past few years,” he wrote.
But displeased commissioners had asked Gimenez to provide alternatives to the tax-rate hike, which the mayor initially proposed at 5.37 percent, including fully funding a $19 million plan voters approved in a non-binding straw ballot last year to stop killing cats and dogs at the county’s shelter.
He later lowered the increase to 4.34 percent, doing away with the animal-welfare portion but trying to maintain fire-rescue and library services.
The amended plan was still met with resistance from commissioners. Half of the board faces reelection next year.
“For me, raising taxes is not an option,” Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa said Monday before Gimenez released his updated proposal.
She made an exception for the separate portion of taxes — not controlled by elected officials — that pays for projects voters approved in a major bond issue a decade ago.
With that portion of the tax rate going up, and because of higher property values, many residents will still see an increase in their county taxes, but it will be far smaller than what Gimenez had originally proposed.
Gimenez said he changed his position after listening to callers on radio, reading emails from residents and receiving calls opposing a tax-rate hike.
“I may make a misstep or two but will always get back on track,” he said.