North Miami Beach council votes to keep tax rate the same

07/31/2014 12:00 AM

07/30/2014 4:59 PM

The North Miami Beach City Council voted Tuesday to keep the property tax rate at $6.6036 per $1,000 of assessed taxable value, the same rate the city has levied since 2011. The rate can be reduced but not increased during the budget process.

According to Miami-Dade County property appraiser’s office, North Miami Beach expanded its tax base by 7.4 percent. Countywide, preliminary taxable values are estimated to be 6.5 percent higher, the biggest increase since the housing market crash that left cities scrambling to make ends meet.

Under the proposed tax rate, the owner of a median single-family home valued at about $148,000 would pay about $647 in city property taxes. This assumes the homeowner takes the standard $50,000 homestead exemption. County, school district and other levies are additional.

With North Miami Beach’s larger tax base, the city expects to see an 8.5 percent increase in property tax revenue, or about $800,000, even with the tax rate unchanged.

Mayor George Vallejo said he wanted the extra money to be spent on new services.

“In my opinion, this is $800,000 that fell from the sky. My concern is that I really want for us to be very deliberate in how we propose how to use this money and not just see it go into the black hole of the general fund,” Vallejo said.

City Council member Marlen Martell suggested a 40-cent increase in the tax rate, which would have set it at $7.00 per $1,000 of assessed taxable value, in order to provide a cushion in the event of unexpected costs during the budget process.

“What we’re doing today is a theoretical issue,” Martell said. “It’s not about increasing it [the tax rate] at all. It’s about instituting a tool. We can even go lower than the 6.6, but we can’t go higher — but if for some reason in the budget process we found an issue where we were all saying we have to do this, then we have this tool,” Martell said.

But the council voted 5-1 to keep the tax rate the same. Council member Frantz Pierre was absent, and council member Beth Spiegel voted against it.

“We balanced last year’s budget by going into reserves,” Spiegel said. “I’m just not comfortable saying we’re going to stay at the same rate as we were last year when we went $2.9 [million] into our reserves,” Spiegel said.

Spiegel cited police and union salaries as being stagnant, two city swimming pools desperately in need of repair, and improved city infrastructure as some of the reasons she wanted to raise the tax rate. But Vallejo reminded the council that they voted not to privatize the city’s sanitation operation, a contentious issue that could have saved the city an estimated $2 million or more annually.

City Manager Ana Garcia assured the council that she would present a balanced budget Tuesday. The first and second public hearings to set the final tax rate and tentative budget for fiscal year 2014-15 will be held at 6 p.m. Sept. 9 and Sept. 23 in the second-floor City Council Chambers at City Hall, 17011 NE 19th Ave.

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