This time of year, the Miami Herald is bursting with articles about local government budgets and property taxes. Within the next week, cities that haven’t done so already will adopt tax rates and spending plans for the year to come.
The new budget year starts Oct. 1.
While property taxes are familiar to anyone who has ever owned a home, Florida has some unusual wrinkles in its tax system that newcomers — and even many longtime residents — might find puzzling.
Here are some frequently asked questions and answers:
Q. Why are taxes and budgets in the news so much this time of year?
A. Local governments in Florida start their fiscal year on Oct. 1, and must have their budgets and tax rates set before then. Most city commissions received a proposed budget from their city manager in July and have been talking about it (and possibly making revisions) since then.
Q. What is happening now?
A. By now, local governments either have adopted a budget and tax rate or are about to do so. Under state law, every local taxing agency must hold two public hearings before adopting the budget. Every property owner should have received a letter from the county property appraiser about a month ago announcing the proposed tax rates along with times and dates for the hearings.
Q. Why do some of these public hearings seem to be scheduled for 5:01 p.m.? What’s with the “01”?
A. To make it easier for people with 9-to-5 jobs to express their views to local leaders, the Florida Legislature has mandated that public hearings on the budget must be held after 5 p.m. Complying with the letter if not the spirit of the law, some localities — Miami-Dade County, Homestead, Doral and Coral Gables, for example — set their hearings for 5:01 p.m. Other municipalities hold their budget hearings at 6 or 7 p.m. In fairness to the county, its budget hearings can be very long, and residents can still sign up to speak even if they show up late.
Q. To whom do I pay property taxes?
A. The Big Three taxing agencies are your county, your school board and your city or town. Smaller amounts go to agencies such as the Miami-Dade Children’s Trust, the South Florida Water Management District, or the hospital districts in Broward County.
Q. What is a “TRIM Notice”?
A. That’s the letter you receive from the county appraiser every August informing you of current and proposed tax rates, the assessed and taxable value of your home, and your tax bill if the proposed rates are approved. It is not a bill.
Q. Is my TRIM notice available online?
A. Yes, you can see your TRIM notice at your county property appraiser’s website by clicking the “property search” feature, entering some information about your home (such as your name or address) and then clicking on the link to see the TRIM notice. You can do the same for other people’s property, too, since these documents are public records. Broward’s website is www.bcpa.net; Miami-Dade’s is www.miamidade.gov/pa.
Q. What does “TRIM” stand for?
A. It stand for “Truth in Millage,” which was an Act of the Legislature, originally passed in 1980.
Q. What is “millage”?
A. It’s a property tax rate. A “mill” is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in taxable real estate value, or 0.1 percent.