Cutler Bay

Cutler Bay cuts property tax rate

The Cutler Bay Town Council has tentatively agreed by a 3-1 vote to reduce its tax rate by about 18 cents per $1,000 in taxable home value.

The council tentatively adopted a tax rate of $2.3907 per $1,000 for next year, down from this year’s $2.57.

The owner of a home assessed at $130,000, taking the standard $50,000 homestead exemption, would pay $196 in tax to the town, down from $206 this year. That assumes the home’s assessed value increased by 1.5 percent, the most allowed by law for an owner-occupied residence this year.

“We are fortunate enough to go back to the rollback rate, which means there will not be a millage rate tax increase for the property owners of the town of Cutler Bay,” town manager Ralph Casals said.

The rollback rate is the tax rate at which the city would receive the same amount of property-tax revenue as the previous year, not counting new construction.

The town is scheduled to have its second budget hearing at 7 p.m. Sept. 23 at Cutler Bay Town Hall.

Council member Sue Ellen Loyzelle was the dissenting vote on the resolution to tentatively adopt the rollback rate.

“We had a really good meeting,” council member Peggy Bell said. “I’ve been working really hard with the manager to go to this rollback rate. It was lower than what we adopted when we incorporated. ... If we did not go back to it we would have had a tax increase for the residents.”

Casals received council approval to advertise a tax rate of $2.72 per $1,000 in property value for the 2014-15 fiscal year, in July, but the town planned to adopt its $2.57 for the fifth consecutive year before agreeing on the rollback rate.

“That means all the property owners will pay the same amount of property taxes in effect to the town of Cutler Bay,” Casals said. “Obviously the taxes comprise of other county, school board, etc. … So the municipal portion of it will remain the same as last year’s.”

Using the rolled back tax rate would result in an additional planned dip into the town’s reserves of $326,000.

“I am pleased that we have committed to spend a chunk of money on our building to make it more hurricane proof,” Mayor Ed MacDougall said. “We are going to look at putting a community center in our building as well. There aren’t any major issues and we are in exceptionally good shape.”

The town also will pay an increase of $595,000 in debt payments on the land where town hall is located and adjoining property.

“That is the schedule we knew when we purchased the building,” MacDougall said. “It isn’t doing any damage to our budget because we knew that that was coming. We did plan for it. We will be restructuring all of the debt of the city over the course of the next 12 months to bring it into a single payment debt structure. The debt is not that bad but we just want to try and get a better deal.”

One issue within the budget is whether allocated money is being spent properly at the Cutler Bay Academy of Advanced Studies, Cutler Ridge Campus.

“We are putting almost $4 million into our own Miami-Dade County public school system for our high school and middle school,” MacDougall said. “We feel like the middle school has not been performing like it should so we are going to have some discussions with the school board as to why that is.”

The Cutler Bay Academy of Advanced Studies, Cutler Ridge Campus, had a grade of C in 2012 but descended to a grade D in 2013, according to the Florida Department of Education. The Cutler Bay Academy of Advanced Studies, Centennial Campus, maintained its grade of C in 2013.

“We’ve put a lot of money into one middle school and turned it into a high school and spent millions of dollars doing it,” MacDougall said. “It is performing extremely well. The middle school just isn’t performing well. We are a little bit disillusioned because they have all of this bond money but they haven’t done any repairs.”

The costs of the Cambridge Curriculum Program at both schools, under an agreement with the Miami-Dade County School Board, is subject to annual renewal and could exceed the $300,000 initial cost if requested by the school board and approved by the Town Council.

“We have to be looking at our agreement with the school board and come to some conclusion that they have it performance-based and we also asked for expenditures for the money we gave them. We aren’t completely satisfied that it is being spent properly,” MacDougall said.

No jobs would be cut in the proposed $36.6 million spending plan, up from $35 million this year.