Miami Beach approves tentative hike in storm water fees to combat rising seas; sets property tax rate

If the measures passes on a second vote, property owners would pay $16.67 a month in storm-water fees. Currently, the monthly fee is $9.06.

07/23/2014 2:25 PM

07/23/2014 9:02 PM

A proposal to hike storm water fees in Miami Beach by 84 percent passed in a preliminary vote Wednesday by the Miami Beach Commission.

The increase is necessary to pay for infrastructure projects that combat sea level rise, city officials say.

Only Commissioner Michael Grieco voted against the increase.

“I think that the rate increase is way too high,” he said in a text message. “There is plenty of fat to trim in the budget and city contracts before we ask the residents to pay 84 percent more in storm-water fees.”

If the measures passes on a second vote, property owners would pay $16.67 a month in storm-water fees. Currently, the monthly fee is $9.06.

“I think this is money well spent,” said Commissioner Jonah Wolfson. “Nobody hates spending money more than me, but this is 100 percent necessary.”

City Manager Jimmy Morales says 87 percent of people surveyed by the city said they’d pay more taxes to address sea level rise.

“We have to prove to the world that we’re not drowning,” Morales said.

In February, commissioners decided to factor higher sea level rise when building city projects. That necessitated $300 million in infrastructure improvements, which will mainly mean the installation of pumps to pull water from the streets.

Miami Beach plans to issue three bonds of $100 million over the next three to five years to pay for the projects. Each bond issue would mean a bump in storm-water rates, which could eventually reach $27.38 a month, according to city projections.

However, officials on Wednesday said all the bond issues may not be needed.

"I am disappointed that Commissioner Grieco decided to play politics with our city's future. While he's looking for that $100 million, I'm moving forward with the commission because there's absolutely no time to waste," said Mayor Philip Levine.

Grieco said he's "absolutely not" opposed to an increase. But he would rather explore other alternatives first, such as a progressive fee based on property value.

"Every house pays exactly the same, whether you live in a $50,000 condo and whether you live in a $10 million home. And that concerns me. . . . I think that we can get creative in the way we fund this."

Grieco said he would not support a blanket fee increase, "Until I'm sure this is the only way this can be done."

In other business, the city commission passed a slightly lower proposed property tax rate in a preliminary vote.

The proposed rate is about $6.09 per $1,000 of taxable assessed property value, down from last year’s rate of about $6.12 per $1,000. A decrease in the city’s debt-service rate accounts for the slight difference.

Homeowners may actually see an increase in their tax bill, though, because property values have gone up.

If the city wanted to collect the same amount of money as last year, the tax rate would have to decrease by about 65 cents per $1,000 of taxable assessed value to offset the uptick in property values.

Under the proposed rate, the typical homeowner with a home assessed at about $197,000 and taking the standard homestead exemption would pay about $918 in city taxes, about $63 more than last fiscal year. Miami-Dade County, the school district and other property levies are assessed separately.

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