Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade commission to decide if property appraiser question goes on ballot

 

If you go

The Miami-Dade County Commission will meet at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the second floor chambers of the Stephen P. Clark Center, 111 NW First St., Miami.


pmazzei@MiamiHerald.com

Miami-Dade County commissioners are scheduled to vote Tuesday on a proposed ballot question that appeared on the verge of being scrapped entirely a few days ago after the board chairwoman made it clear that she dislikes the measure.

Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo said Monday that he still intends to seek commission approval for his proposal to ask voters in November to clarify the powers of the elected property appraiser.

His decision marked a change of heart from last week, when Bovo told Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa that he might withdraw the item from consideration altogether.

“She had some reservations, and I understand her concerns,” Bovo told the Miami Herald. “We considered withdrawing the item, deferring the item. But then over the weekend, thinking about it more — the time expended, the money expended — we thought, let’s just move it forward.

“If it gets voted down, then so be it.”

The ballot question, if approved Tuesday, would go to voters on the Nov. 4 election. It would ask if the appraiser should fall under county authority — essentially as an elected department head, as it is now — or be more independent under the Florida Constitution.

Bovo’s item easily passed a commission committee in March, and received little interest in six public hearings held around the county. One of the evening meetings had zero attendance. The best-attended had eight people show up.

But a meeting last Wednesday between Bovo and Sosa, which was tape-recorded as required by Florida’s “government in the sunshine” laws, revealed deeper misgivings from Sosa than just over wording.

“A department that has to play such an important role in our decisions, in our property taxes — I get scared,” she said at the time. “Why fix something that is not broken?”

Except some would argue it is broken, or at least malfunctioning, Bovo said. Before he was appointed lieutenant governor in January, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, the former property appraiser, butted heads with the county over his office powers, particularly over labor matters. Most property appraiser employees belong to unions whose collective-bargaining agreements apply countywide.

Lopez-Cantera even asked a judge to weigh in on his authority, but Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jose M. Rodriguez, months later, has yet to rule.

Lopez-Cantera’s successor, acting Property Appraiser Lazaro Solis, said he thinks voters expected the office to be more independent than it is. The property appraiser has some discretion to enter into contracts without commission approval or competitive bidding, but its financial accounts are handled by the county administration.

“It has caused some confusion with the public,” Solis said. “I believe that most of the people think it’s independent. Because it’s not operating independently, then shouldn’t the people decide?”

Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Monday he is fine with asking voters to take up the issue.

At the heart of the matter is a lingering worry that county administrators could try to influence the appraiser’s property assessments. Property taxes are the primary source of revenue for the county budget.

Solis noted that the county auditor has recently asked to audit the property appraiser’s assessments. In the past, the auditor has only reviewed matters of procedure because the auditor’s office doesn’t have any appraisers of its own on staff qualified to evaluate assessments, Solis said.

“There’s a question of whether the county should be doing that, and if that is somehow influencing the appraiser’s outcome,” Solis told the Herald. The Florida Department of Revenue, which oversees property appraisers, reviews Miami-Dade’s tax roll every year and conducts an in-depth audit every other year, according to Solis.

Miami-Dade is among the three of Florida’s 67 counties that does not consider the property appraiser a constitutional officer. As such, the Miami-Dade property appraiser is governed by the county’s home-rule charter and, unlike constitutional officers, subject to recall by voters.

That’s key for Sosa. She told Bovo that, six years ago, it was clear to her and other commissioners — and to the voters — that the property appraiser would become an elected position but not a completely independent constitutional officer. Under either arrangement, the appraiser’s annual budget would require commission approval.

Read more Miami-Dade stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
A sign stands at 1448 NW 103rd St. in Miami to let passers-by know the government demolished the house even though the owner was on active military duty.

    Miami-Dade County

    Miami-Dade demolished active-duty soldier’s home

    A federal judge ruled last week that the county should have delayed building-code violation proceedings against the soldier when he asked for a stay while he was in Iraq.

  • Friends and Neighbors

    Friends and Neighbors: Campaign raises money to feed hungry school children

    Local food banks want to help children who often go hungry get what they need to thrive in school. Community support is needed.

  • Friends and Neighbors

    Florida Mayors join forces to say no to bullies

    Looking back at my growing up days, I can remember how school bullies tried to made life miserable for me and a lot of other youngsters. I remember being followed home one day by a bully who wanted to start a fight. When I kept ignoring her, she soon turned, with her followers and went home. Unlike some of today’s bullies, she didn’t try to hit me. She was just all mouth, spitting out insulting remarks.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category