Miami-Dade County

Housing issue upstages hearing

Dozens of Miami-Dade's neediest residents overshadowed the early part of the county's final budget hearing Wednesday night, often chanting quietly, begging for a decent place to live -- and demanding a significant chunk of money.

Led by a coalition of activist groups, citizens had spent Tuesday night sleeping in a miniature tent city outside the doors of County Hall. Wednesday night, they demanded that commissioners take $200 million from County Manager George Burgess' proposed $6.89 billion budget to build affordable homes.

''These are the faces that were looked over during [Hurricane] Katrina,'' Gihan Perera, executive director of the Miami Workers Center, told commissioners. ``There is a man-made disaster happening in Dade County.''

Power U for Social Change Executive Director Denise Perry stubbornly demanded a ''yes'' or ''no'' answer from commissioners about transferring the $200 million.

Told it wasn't possible, she called it ''gravely disappointing'' and led the group away after about 90 minutes. They quietly sang We Shall Overcome as they exited the chamber.

The county is mired in an affordable housing crisis outlined in The Miami Herald series House of Lies that chronicled millions of dollars of mismanagement, inaction and a lack of homes being built by the Miami-Dade Housing Agency.

Burgess' budget proposal put an additional $19 million toward affordable housing.

On Wednesday, commissioners were asked by Burgess to set a property tax rate of $11.59 for every $1,000 of taxable property for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. That would mean an increase of $34 a year for a homeowner in unincorporated Miami-Dade who has a homestead exemption and a home with a median value of $140,000.

The rate is down from this year's $11.71 for every $1,000 of taxable property. But since property values have increased, homeowners would have to pay more in taxes.

On Monday, commission Chairman Joe Martinez offered a budget message that would lower the rate even more, to $11.48 for every $1,000 of taxable property. That would cost the same homeowner an additional $21.89 a year.

Commissioners considered nuances of the budget that would see its biggest increases in public safety, bulky waste collections, restoring trees lost during last year's storms and funding for the county's new 311 call center.

One of the more controversial issues in Burgess' budget proposal was a decision to raise the bulky waste pickup fee by $40 a year, to $439. It would improve service, he said, by guaranteeing that trash is picked up within a week of an appointment. Now it takes 10 to 21 days.

His plan also called for a one-year increase in tariffs at the seaport, expected to generate $5 million, and a $1.47 million payment to the Beacon Council for marketing. Burgess also budgeted for six firetrucks and rescue vehicles and a $200,000 armored vehicle for the Special Response Team of the Miami-Dade Police Department.