A fight over a potential tax cut in Miami-Dade County appears less likely this week, with Mayor Carlos Gimenez touting the same flat property rates that he proposed a month ago.
Gimenez had raised the possibility of a cut when he first unveiled his budget in early July. “The tax rate will remain flat for now,” he said July 9, two days after releasing his $6.8 billion budget proposal for 2016. “I said 'for now' because we're still going to work on this budget.”
In an interview this week, Gimenez said he’s currently leaning against trying for a rate cut before county commissioners begin voting on the 2016 budget in September. “Right now, I'm thinking about just leaving it the way it is,” he said of his proposed tax rate. “We're still working, but it appears at this point we're probably going to propose the same rate.”
With real estate values up 9 percent countywide this year, the school board is rolling back its property tax rate slightly for 2016 while Miami, Doral and other cities are pursuing flat rates for their operating budgets. Gimenez's July 7 budget proposal kept the maximum countywide rate flat at $976 for every $100,000 of a property's taxable values.
Any effort to roll back Miami-Dade's rates promised a battle with the liberal wing of the county commission, which has pushed for restoring service cuts made necessary by the tax-rate reduction that Gimenez secured shortly after taking office in 2011. In a pair of town-hall meetings this week in Florida City and West Kendall, Gimenez touted a budget proposal with both flat taxes and a broad range of spending increases.
“I’m happy to report that Miami-Dade County government has indeed turned a corner,” Gimenez said during a budget town hall he convened Wednesday night at the Palmetto Bay Village Hall. “Better days are ahead because of the sacrifices we made during some very difficult times that hit our country, as well as our county.”
Under his plan, county maintenance crews will cut the grass at parks and roadsides 23 percent more often, the fire department will put a second rescue boat in the water, 10 libraries will move to six-day schedules from the current five, Animal Services will contract for a new spay-and-neuter clinic in Homestead, and Miami-Dade will add $5 million to emergency reserves, the first contribution under Gimenez's tenure.
But the budget, which would be in effect when Gimenez runs for reelection next year, also highlights needs that remain.
Parks officials say they can't afford to provide enough after-school and summer programs, only five libraries will be open seven days, and the taxes that fund countywide services are projected to fall $20 million below spending in 2018 (while taxes that fund municipal services in the county's unincorporated area are forecast to create a $22 million surplus that year).
At this time last year, Gimenez was in the process of walking back a package of austerity measures initially proposed in his 2015 budget. Those included hundreds of police lay-offs that eventually were dropped during the summer budget process. Gimenez used the town halls to announce his staff had found ways to avoid the cuts and spare services.
With three weeks to go before commissioners take their first budget vote, Gimenez still has time to make changes to his spending plan — either through a new slate of expanded services or a the rate cut he had talked about last month. In his recent interview, Gimenez said the latest budget numbers show enough improvement to ease some spending pressure but not enough to justify changing the flat rates.
“It is getting better,” he said during an interview after a Monday town hall in Florida City, “but really to the point where we can actually fix some other things. The [tax] reduction would be very small.”
Raquel Regalado, the school board member running against Gimenez, said she would have proposed a lower tax rate as mayor.
“We lowered it at the school district,” Regalado said. “I would have lowered it as much as possible. But at the same time, the county has needs that have been unmet. So the question isn’t just lower or not lower. It’s, how is he spending the money?”
Miami-Dade budget town halls
County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is holding six more budget town halls this month. They all begin at 6 p.m.
Wednesday Aug. 12: Village of Palmetto Bay, Village Hall, 9705 East Hibiscus St., Palmetto Bay
Thursday Aug 13: City of Aventura, Commission Chambers, 19200 West Country Club Drive, Aventura
Tuesday Aug. 18: Milander Center for Arts and Entertainment, 4800 Palm Ave., Hialeah
Thursday Aug. 20: Arcola Lakes Branch Library, 8240 NW 7 Ave., Miami
Tuesday Aug. 25: Miami Gardens City Hall, 18605 NW 27 Ave., Miami Gardens
Thursday Aug. 27: West Dade Regional Library, 9445 Coral Way, Miami