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North Miami to collect trash fees as part of annual tax bill

 

pbuteau@MiamiHerald.com

The North Miami City Council unanimously decided in December to move its residents’ trash and stormwater charges from their quarterly utility bills to property tax bills.

However, disagreement arose at Tuesday’s meeting city administrators needed approval to put the new collection method into effect through an agreement with the county’s property appraiser and tax collector. It passed with a 3-2 vote.

The city will have to pay Miami-Dade County a collection fee of between $100,000 and $300,000 annually as part of the deal.

Council members Marie Steril, Philippe Bien-Aime and Mayor Lucie Tondreau voted for the agreement. Councilwoman Carol Keys and Vice Mayor Scott Galvin voted against it.

Steril, Keys and Galvin said they would not have voted for the new method back in December if they had known about the county fee.

“The concept is fine but the money that it’s costing us isn’t,” Keys said.

The new method also means residents will see additional charges on their property tax bill starting Oct. 1, the start of the city’s budget year. The charges that were on their utility bills for trash and stormwater will now be on their property bills.

City Manager Stephen Johnson said the county’s fee is reasonable considering the benefits of the new method.

One benefit to the city is earlier cash flow as the County sends property tax bills within the first three months of the city’s fiscal year, and that money gains interest. For residents whose taxes are paid through mortgage companies, this method spreads their payments out to 12 times a year instead of four. And if residents pay early, a 4 percent discount is available.

But the discount is a part of the city’s shortfall.

The cost to the city comes from a 2 percent fee the county charges to collect the money. Finance Director Camelia Siguineau said during the meeting the fee varies and might only be 1 percent. She said the county does not charge the full 2 percent to municipalities.

Johnson also said the city is “aggressively” moving towards an automated bill system that will help the city send out bills quicker, catch leaks quicker and lower costs. And the city will be able to change how frequently it sends out bills.

The city of Miami started using the same collection method in 1999. North Miami tried to use it in 2002 and 2009, but the then-City Councils terminated it during the set up process.

“It was largely ripped apart by the public,” Galvin said during the meeting. “We danced this dance before. People are going to be furious when their tax bills go up and they’re being asked to pay right before the holidays.”

But Tondreau said the proposal makes sense.

“I don’t see why would it be such a big issue when everyone else does it and it works perfectly for them,” the mayor said. “Unless we take pleasure in using this for a political weapon.”

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