The Miami-Dade Commission voted Tuesday to keep the property-tax rate flat for the 2013-14 budget year, undeterred by the prospect of shuttering libraries and eliminating fire-rescue units.
Commissioners voted 8-4 to hold the line on the tax rate, which will require steep cuts and up to 400 layoffs in the county’s library and fire-rescue departments. A plan to stop killing cats and dogs at the animal shelter that voters approved in a non-binding straw ballot last year will receive only bare-bones funding.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who had initially proposed a tax-rate hike to maintain services and fully fund the animal-welfare plan, reversed course and late Monday recommended the flat rate instead.
“After listening further to our residents and community leaders, it is clear that there is no public support for a tax-rate increase right now,” he said Tuesday.
Commissioners may lower — but not raise — the rate by the time they approve the budget after two public hearings in September. Between now and then, Gimenez said, his administration will try to identify ways to minimize the service cuts.
The board did sign off on an increase to the portion of the tax rate that pays for big-ticket construction projects voters approved in a bond question a decade ago, so many homeowners would still see a tax hike.
A homeowner with a taxable value of $200,000 in an unincorporated neighborhood such a Kendall would pay $27.32 more than last year in county taxes, which make up only a portion of a total tax bill. The increase will be higher if the home’s property value has gone up; countywide, values rose 3.39 percent.
Several board members said the commission should have tentatively approved the higher tax rate, giving residents time to digest the potential cuts and county administrators a chance to come up with more alternatives.
“I just don’t know that people will support getting rid of fire units,” Commissioner Dennis Moss said. “I know that people won’t support getting rid of libraries.”
Two years ago, Gimenez’s proposal to shutter libraries drew so much criticism that the administration ultimately backtracked on its plan. On Tuesday, Commissioner Barbara Jordan said she feared the latest round of cuts would disproportionately affect poor communities.
Her comments resonated at the Doral branch library Tuesday, where 17-year-old Andre Nucete, a rising senior at Ronald Reagan High and frequent library visitor, had planned to study for his upcoming SAT tests.
“I know a lot of people at my school that don’t have access to the Internet; they come here for it,’’ said Andre, who added: “It's going to affect a lot of kids.’’
But after more than five hours of public comments and dais discussion Tuesday, a majority of commissioners said they would not sign off on a tax-rate bump — even though several rued the potential cuts. Commissioner Javier Souto called libraries “sacred” and said closing one would be akin to closing a church.
“This is not the year to be talking about increases,” Commissioner Juan C. Zapata concluded.
Voting in favor of the flat rate were Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa, Vice Chairwoman Lynda Bell and Commissioners Zapata, Bruno Barreiro, Esteban “Steve” Bovo, Jose “Pepe” Diaz, Javier Souto and Xavier Suarez. Voting against were Moss and Commissioners Jordan, Sally Heyman and Jean Monestime. Commissioner Audrey Edmonson was absent.