Coral Gables plans to fund 10 capital projects and hire seven police officers under the budget proposed last week.
City leaders unanimously approved on Thursday a budget of $156.2 million for its 2013-14 fiscal year, an 8 percent jump over last year’s $145 million budget. It was the first reading; the second and final vote will be on Sept. 24.
The commissioners approved a tax rate of $5.629 per $1,000 of taxable property value, slightly lower than the current rate of 5.669. The longtime owner of a home assessed at $375,000 would pay about $1,865 in property tax, assuming the owner qualifies for the standard $50,000 homestead exemption, and that the home’s taxable value increased by 1.7 percent, the maximum allowed this year for an owner-occupied home. That’s an increase of about $23. If the city were not cutting the tax rate, the increase would have been $36.
The reduction in the city’s property tax rate, though small, is the third consecutive cut in the tax rate, Coral Gables Finance Director Diana Gomez said in her presentation.
The $11 million increase in the overall budget is due, in part, to the Gables “trying to catch up with the infrastructure needs in the city,” City Manager Pat Salerno said.
Capital projects include about $400,000 for structural repairs to City Hall on Biltmore Way; $350,000 for painting and common area improvements in two new city garages, including the museum garage on Aragon Avenue; $450,000 to revive the historic Merrick House; $1.1 million for repairs and improvements to the 74-year-old Public Safety Building on Salzedo, which houses the police department; and $450,000 for streetscape improvements to the Kings Bay community in the south Gables, adjacent to Deering Bay.
Citywide, salaries are expected to rise nearly $1.5 million, in part because Salerno wants to add seven police officers, bringing the force up to 191.
In 2012, overall crime fell 1.1 percent in the Gables, a city of about 48,000 residents, except for increases in stolen bicycles and thefts from autos, according to the Coral Gables Police Department. The additional field officers would be part of department reorganization, Salerno said.
“We want to be proactive, the community is continuing to grow and we want to have additional resources,” Salerno said.
City beautification projects, including about $400,000 to “reforest” areas of the Gables in which at least 2,000 trees are dead or dying, are also on the budget.
Vice Mayor Bill Kerdyk Jr. praised the manager and staff for proposing a budget heavy on capital projects. Former Mayor Dorothy Thomson, who served in the 1990s as the city’s only female mayor to date, agreed.
“In all the years I’ve been involved in the city, and the 16 I served on the city commission, I’ve never seen so many capital improvement projects underway,” Thomson said. “I want to compliment the city manager on that and the commission for giving him the support.”
The budget and tax rate, if approved at a second public hearing on Sept. 24, would go into effect on Oct. 1.
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