Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade mayor reverses course on proposed tax-rate hike, downsizes animal-shelter plan

A day after proposing a property-tax rate hike in his 2013-14 budget, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said he would scale back the eyebrow-raising increase.

The mayor will drop his request to raise a portion of the tax rate to fully fund a $19 million plan to stop killing dogs and cats at the county’s shelter, Gimenez told the Miami Herald late Wednesday.

Instead, he said the animal services department would receive $4 million from within the budget to implement a bare-bones version of the no-kill shelter plan. That would limit the mayor’s proposed tax-rate hike to funding library and fire-rescue services.

“I’m hearing the voice of the people, and so I don’t think it’s good right now to raise the countywide millage,” Gimenez said.

Gimenez’s initial proposal was met with some resistance and disbelief Wednesday from politicians who noted the mayor was elected two years ago on a platform to shrink government following the ouster of Mayor Carlos Alvarez. Gimenez’s predecessor was recalled after pushing through an unpopular tax-rate hike and doling out employee pay raises in an economic recession.

The overall tax rate would still go up under Gimenez’s amended proposal. The increase would amount to 4.34 percent, rather than the 5.37 percent listed in the budget released Tuesday.

Compared to last year, that would amount to an $80.94 increase rather than a $102.52 increase for a homeowner with a taxable property value of $200,000 in an unincorporated neighborhood such as Kendall.

The higher fire and library rates would not affect residents of cities with their own departments for those services. The total increase includes a separate portion of taxes that pays for construction projects voters approved in a major bond issue a decade ago. County taxes make up only a portion of a total tax bill.

The animal-welfare plan was given a thumbs up by nearly 65 percent of Miami-Dade voters last November. “We must respect the will of the voters,” Gimenez had said Tuesday.

But it was a straw-ballot question, and Gimenez said a day later that he heard from several people Wednesday that they would not have favored the measure if it had been binding.

Not so, said Michael Rosenberg, a Kendall businessman and co-founder of Pets Trust Miami, the grassroots group that promoted the ballot question.

“I know the community knew exactly what they were voting for,” he said after learning of Gimenez’s decision from a reporter.

“What is the point of voting anymore?” he added. “The people spoke with a voice that resonated all over the country. We are in shock that the mayor killed the program, and with that, the killing of animals will continue.”

But some county commissioners have sounded skittish from the dais for weeks on the animal-welfare plan. The board agreed to a policy goal of not killing adoptable pets, but how to pay for it has been a thornier political question in a year when Gimenez’s administration faced a $50.7 million budget hole.

“When you’re dealing with a budget deficit, items like the pets trust issue kind of morph into a luxury that we may not be able to afford right now,” Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo, a leading skeptic of the animal-welfare tax hike, said Wednesday night.

He called Gimenez’s change in course encouraging but said he is still worried about any tax-rate increase.

“The climate of raising taxes is very toxic right now,” he said.

Commissioners will meet next Tuesday to set the maximum tax rate. They must approve a budget after two public hearings in September.

Gimenez said the alternative to raising the library and fire rates would be eliminating six fire units — the equivalent of laying off about 120 firefighters — and closing 17 branch libraries, 10 storefront libraries and the county’s bookmobiles.