Miami-Dade’s Parks budget grows 9.7 percent under Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s proposed 2016 budget to $156 million, the highest since he took office in 2011. Yet the mayor has said the Parks “subsidy” would increase 20 percent next year.
How do those two numbers square?
After some back-and-forth with the county’s budget office, Dade Data has the answer. It’s a bit complicated, but offers a good lesson in county finance. Who doesn’t appreciate that?
Both increase calculations are driven by changes in three sources of tax dollars that underpin the proposed $156 million Parks budget for 2016.
The first: countywide general-fund dollars, which consist mostly of property taxes paid across Miami-Dade. That funding source is actually slashed when it comes to Parks in the Gimenez budget: down 25 percent in 2016 from the current level of $34 million.
That loss of $8.3 million is mostly compensated for in the Parks budget by boosting a second stream of property taxes: those paid in the unincorporated areas of Miami-Dade. Parks saw an 35 percent surge in general-fund dollars from unincorporated Miami-Dade in the proposed budget, which added $7.3 million for 2016.
Overall, that means a $1 million loss for Parks. So, where does the 2016 growth come from – be it 10 percent or 20 percent? The answer: Hotel taxes.
State law bars hotel taxes from being spent on government expenses not tied to tourism or entertainment, but county lawyers determined Zoo Miami, a Parks entity, qualifies for the money.
By using surplus hotel taxes to cover some or all of the zoo’s $22 million budget, Gimenez has in past years been able to free up Parks property-tax dollars to go elsewhere.
For the current year, that practice seemed to be on hold. Parks’ hotel-tax stream dropped from $26 million in 2014 to just $2.3 million in 2015. But in 2016, hotel taxes are big source of growth – up 365 percent to $10.8 million.
Combined, all three tax sources are up 13 percent in 2016 – fairly close to the overall increase of nearly 10 percent at Parks. So what’s the explanation for that advertised 20 percent increase in the Parks’ subsidy?
Jennifer Moon, Gimenez’s budget chief, said the extra dollars come from a portion of a separate capital budget involving Parks. Capital dollars mostly arrive via bond proceeds tied to county borrowing, which is funded by a special property tax.
At first glance, the capital budget would seem to muddy the waters: the Parks expenditure categories list $82 million in projects in 2015 and $67 million in 2016 – an 18 percent drop.
But Moon said those expenditures are tied to long-range projects where dollars are allocated over multiple years. To calculate the subsidy increase, she said, the Gimenez administration looked only at a narrow spending category: new projects in the Parks capital budget that are paid for with general-fund dollars.
Specifically, the 20 percent figure (really 22 percent) represents an additional $5.9 million earmarked for new renovation efforts at existing parks. Moon said only $500,000 was budgeted in that category in the current year.
In a spreadsheet Moon provided, the 2015 Parks subsidy equaled $58 million and the 2016 subsidy is proposed at $71 million.
That’s an additional $12.9 million, and an increase of 22 percent.
“A Budget explains what your priorities are,” Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández wrote in a statement. “Mayor Gimenez's Proposed Budget enhances services in our Parks and increases maintenance cycles. Clearly, the Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department is a priority for his administration.”