Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade tax roll up 3.39 percent

Miami-Dade County’s property-tax base rose 3.39 percent for 2013, marking the second consecutive year of growth after the great real-estate crash that crippled the region’s economy and forced many local governments into painful downsizing.

But the recovery remained spotty across the sprawling and diverse county, with some municipalities posting big gains and others still seeing their tax base shrink.

Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera said Monday the overall taxable value of county real estate at the end of last year was $197,133,835,984. That countywide taxable value turned out to be a bit better than a June 1 estimate from the property appraiser, which put growth at 3.1 percent.

The July 1 preliminary certification of taxable values enables cities and other taxing authorities like the School Board and the Children’s Trust, to set their budgets for the 2013-14 year and to decide on proposed millage rates. But they are sort of stale news for those interested in current market values.

“These values are not the best to determine what your property is worth,” said Lopez-Cantera, noting assessments are based on prior-year values. “Today’s real estate activity won’t be reflected until 2014.”

The City of Miami posted a 4.47 percent gain in taxable value, which totaled $32.74 billion for 2013. With a host of new construction in the works in Miami’s downtown, that trend seems likely to continue.

“We were projecting like 4.1 percent and it turned out to be 4.47 percent,” Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said. “I think that’s very important, because it shows that the city is growing — that the market is coming back. ... That’s very good news for the residents.”

Miami’s budget director was crunching numbers Monday evening to figure out what the increase could amount to for next year’s budget — perhaps about $700,000 more, based on current tax rates, Regalado said.

He suggested that money could be used to offset a decrease in communications tax money coming from the state of Florida.

The tiny enclave of Indian Creek Village, where last year’s $47 million sale of a bayfront mansion to a Russian buyer set a record for Miami-Dade, posted the biggest percentage gain in its tax base for 2013 — 19.5 percent — despite no new construction coming on the tax roll. The village was dubbed “Miami’s Billionaire Bunker” by Forbes last year.

Bal Harbour’s taxable value increased 15.14 percent. Bal Harbour finance director Chris Wallace said it’s too soon to say whether the increase will impact the 2013-14 budget and that many choices will be left up to elected officials.

“It’s a positive development for the village,” Wallace said.

The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort at 9703 Collins Avenue, which opened in 2012 and has 243 guests rooms and 245 private residences, “likely added quite a bit to the village’s tax value,” said Wallace, who also cited condominium projects.

Among other big winners was Sunny Isles Beach, where fancy high-rise condominiums dominate the skyline and taxable value jumped 10.32 percent year over year to $6.90 billion for 2013, both from increasing values of existing properties and some new construction.

“We’ve got some of the finest, highest quality luxury condos going up in the country,” Christopher Russo, Sunny Isles’ city manager said. “It’s not a surprise. We are fortunate of where we are located.”

Russo said staff is still working on the next fiscal year’s budget, but some of the extra revenues would be used to finance existing capital improvement projects such as the Gateway Park, Intracoastal Park, an emergency pedestrian bridge running north-south between 174th and 172nd streets and upgrades for Samson Oceanfront Park. The bigger tax base will also be used to decrease the millage rate, he predicted.

The oceanfront and upscale urban areas typically fared better than the western and southern suburbs. Miami Beach saw assessed values climb a solid 6.87 percent.

Meanwhile, Florida City in the southern end of the county continued to suffer from the real-estate bust, with its taxable value shrinking 5.58 percent to $414.59 million for 2013. Finance director, Mark Ben-Asher, suspects that the drop is due primarily to declines in the value of commercial property. The bottom line is that lower assessed values mean lower tax revenues for the city.

While short on specifics, Ben-Asher said, “We’re going to have to tighten our belts.”

That belt-tightening could include searching for ways to streamline administrative functions, such as consolidating vacant positions and changing purchasing practices, or delaying capital improvement projects.

“Everything is on the table,” Ben-Asher said. but he noted that layoffs and furloughs are options of last resort after dipping into reserves and that the city hasn’t had to lay anyone off in his 21-year tenure.

However, Florida City police officers, as well as other city staff members, may have to wait another year for a salary increase.

“We’re not looking to increase salaries at the very time we’re losing tax revenues,” Ben-Asher said, describing negotiations with the police union as “an evolving process.”

Hialeah’s taxable value declined 3.5 percent, marking the sixth consecutive year it has fallen and leaving a tax base of $6.97 billion.

Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez, who acts as the city’s administrator under a strong-mayor government, said Monday he anticipates another tough budget season.

“We’ll just have to tighten our belts again,” he said, noting budget preparations are ongoing and he doesn’t plan on raising property taxes. He said the city will look into ways to be more efficient without impacting services too much.

“We’re working to make sure that this has as minimum an effect as possible on the services for our citizens,” he said.

Lopez-Cantera said that part of Hialeah’s decrease can be attributed to a new additional homestead exemption for low-income seniors.

Lopez-Cantera, former Florida House Majority Leader who took office in January after beating incumbent Pedro Garcia in the November election, is urging property owners with concerns over valuations to talk directly with staff in his office.

“If a property owner believes their property is over assessed, a new individual assessment review process is now available to property owners as well as an informal assessment review form that can be accessed online,” Lopez-Cantera said in a statement. “By using these procedures, property owners will be able to avoid a lengthy appeal process with the Value Adjustment Board that can take more than a year to finalize.’’

Miami Herald staff reporters Patricia Mazzei and Joey Flechas and freelance reporters Lidia Dinkova, Daniel Ducassi and Rodolfo Roman contributed to this report.

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