Miami-Dade commissioners on Tuesday approved flat rates for property taxes in 2018 as the county faces immediate cuts in transit and lacks a way to pay for the historic expansion of rail that board members are demanding.
The lone No vote came from Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, who asked how much higher tax rates would need to climb countywide to avoid cuts in Metrorail hours. “The people riding the trains are suffering now,” said Levine Cava, who also asked about raising taxes to boost police hiring. “I’m hearing from riders daily. We’ve unfortunately responded to this by cutting service.”
With Metrorail funding down $4.5 million in Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s proposed 2018 budget, property-tax rates would need to rise a fraction of a percent to avoid the 6 percent cut for the rail line. Budget chief Jennifer Moon said a property worth $200,000 would pay about $4 extra a year on countywide tax that typically costs less than $1,000.
Despite her inquiry on higher tax rates, Levine Cava did not propose actually raising county rates before a vote that essentially sets the cap for what Miami-Dade will charge property owners for the budget year that begins Oct. 1. The 13-member board still has the authority to set higher rates in the coming months, but that would require a second mailing of tax notices; the first is set to go out to property owners in August.
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Property taxes are set to bring in $1.7 billion countywide next year amid higher real estate values and expanded construction, though Miami-Dade faces shortfalls in sales-tax projections and a decline in hotel-tax revenue.
With Tuesday’s vote, county commissioners still may fight over Gimenez’s $7.4 billion budget, but will be limited to the revenues generated by a continuation of 2017 property-tax rates. Property taxes are set to bring in $1.7 billion countywide next year amid higher real estate values and expanded construction, though Miami-Dade faces shortfalls in sales-tax projections and a decline in hotel-tax revenue.
The squeeze on the revenue side, combined with built-in increases in payroll costs and the assumption that Florida voters will approve an increase in homeowner tax deductions, prompted some austerity measures for 2018 that have commissioners requesting changes before final adoption in September.
Commissioner Rebeca Sosa noted the Parks budget includes reductions in the number of times county crews will mow the grass on playing fields, roadsides and some parks. “Remember, we’re taking about Zika, Zika, Zika,” she said of the mosquito-borne disease that hit Miami-Dade last year. “The maintenance of the parks is very important.”
County property taxes make up only a portion of a property’s annual bill, with the school board, cities, and various taxing districts charging their own rates. Miami-Dade itself charges each property up to six taxes, depending on whether the land sits within districts relying on the county for certain services. And even with flat rates, the average property owner will see a higher bill since property values rose countywide in 2017.
We’ve all promised people transit is the No. 1 thing. But where is the money coming from?
Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz
All properties are subject to the countywide property tax set at $467 for every $100,000 of taxable value. Another countywide tax of $40 for every $100,000 of value funds debt payments on projects authorized by bond referendums. Four other tax rates are tied to county services available to some properties and not others.
The one charged for municipal services on properties outside of city limits would remain $193 per $100,000 of value. The library tax would stay at $28 per $100,000 and fire (which has a separate tax for debt) at $243 per $100,000.
While those flat rates limit the county’s budgeted revenue to what Gimenez proposed for 2018, commissioners can still press for dollars to be moved around from category to category. And the Gimenez administration can announce rosier projections to allow for boosted spending.
Along with short-term cuts in bus routes and Metrorail, Gimenez this week announced Miami-Dade does not have the long-term funding to build new rail lines along the six corridors outlined in the county’s SMART transit plan. That analysis prompted backlash from commissioners during the discussion of county finances.
“We’ve all promised people transit is the No. 1 thing,” said Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz. “But where is the money coming from?”