Budget deficits loom for Miami-Dade as the county prepares to boost security spending in the wake of the Parkland massacre, and the public will have a chance to make its own demands Thursday afternoon during the first of two budget hearings.
The hearing at downtown Miami’s Stephen Clark government center is scheduled to start at 5 p.m., a yearly kick-off to a rare evening meeting by the County Commission that can last for hours and sometimes results in last-minute changes by budget writers to satisfy calls for more money in some corners of a proposed budget that now approaches $8 billion.
For 2019, Miami-Dade County is taking the unprecedented step of spending money on police security for the county school system, a branch of government run by a separate elected board and funded by its own property tax. A state law passed after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School requires armed security at every school, and Miami-Dade’s school system asked local governments to dispatch officers to cover facilities not protected by the school system’s own police force.
With Miami-Dade serving as the municipal government for all property outside of city limits, it agreed to temporarily assign 120 officers to suburban schools. The cost is roughly $20 million and would be funded out of reserves for one year. County budget forecasters are not planning on funding the officers beyond a year, with the hope that the school system’s police force can take over the mandated security by then.
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Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s proposed 2019 budget went further on the security front, creating a new set of roving police squads aimed at responding quickly to mass shootings. Budgeted at about $15 million, the “priority response” teams would not respond to regular police calls but instead would patrol the county waiting to rush to a shooting emergency. With 81 officer positions, the squads would work out of all the county stations outside of city limits (in the unincorporated area of MIami-Dade). The expense represents about 2 percent of the police department’s $700 million budget.
The proposed Gimenez budget keeps most property tax rates flat. An increase in the countywide tax that funds voter-authorized debt would push the overall tax rate up less than 1 percent for 2019, though rising property values tend to boost tax bills for almost all residents.
Property-tax revenues aren’t forecast to cover rising expenditures in later years. The Gimenez budget predicts a countywide budget deficit of $20 million by 2024. For the tax paid by property owners outside of city limits for municipal services from the county, deficits begin much quicker: $26 million in 2020, rising to $58 million by 2024.
Miami-Dade is bracing for a hit on property-tax revenue from a state referendum that would let residents deduct another $25,000 in taxable value from their local tax bill for their primary residences. Gimenez’s proposed 2019 budget diverts the expected loss from that measure to the temporary security bill for schools.
Gimenez said he wasn’t concerned by the out-year forecasts since the county has avoided projected deficits in the past. “We’ve had five-year deficits before,” he said. “They’re just projections. Things never stay the way they are. We make adjustments all the time.”
IF YOU GO
▪ What: Miami-Dade’s first budget hearing
▪ When: Thursday, Sept. 6. By law, the meeting’s scheduled start is 5:01 p.m.
▪ Where: Stephen P. Clark Government Center, 111 NW First St., Miami
▪ What’s next: The second budget hearing is Sept. 10, followed by a final vote by the County Commission.