Cutler Bay

Cutler Bay council approves town budget

Cutler Bay council members have given final approval to a 2014-15 budget with a lower tax rate.

The council approved the $52.4 million operating Tuesday night for a new budget year that starts Oct.1.

The tax rate will be $2.39 per $1,000 in taxable home value, down from this year’s $2.57.

“I think the fact that all the council members were involved, we had an additional budget workshop in July, and we started the process early. ... That allows the Town Council plenty of time to review the budget and gives them time to meet individually with me,” Town Manager Ralph Casals said.

Heading into Tuesday’s final hearing, the Town Council held budget workshops on July 23 and Aug. 20 and its first budget hearing Sept.9.

Council member Sue Ellen Loyzelle was the dissenting vote on a resolution that tentatively adopted the lower tax rate at the Sept.9 hearing, because she wished to have a “higher ceiling at the time.” On Tuesday, Loyzelle tried to persuade council members with a motion to add additional police officers for the town with funds found from prospective grants and the town’s available reserves.

“I was really trying to pass a motion for an additional officer,” Loyzelle said. “Sliding some of the funds around and trying to get grants for tree trimming, this would be a better use of our money I felt. We could use some of those funds for a police officer.”

Loyzelle said police Maj. Julie Miller’s presentation before the council last year asked for an additional seven officers for the town, which hired two new officers last year.

Miller serves as the town’s police chief. The town contracts with Miami-Dade County for police services.

“Right now we are at 1.23 officers per 1,000 residents,” Loyzelle said. “We have a population of 42,000. Many of the municipalities are much higher. Some of the council members didn’t think we should compare with the municipalities, but we are the lowest per capita police officers. Our town manager is going to work hard to try to find the funds.”

Loyzelle’s motion failed 4-1, but Casals said he is pursuing multiple types of grants to “possibly” hire more officers.

“We are also going to be reviewing our budget throughout the quarterly report to see what we can do to add additional officers,” Casals said. “This budget does not include [additional] officers.”

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 lower rate.

Using the lower tax rate is expected to result in an additional planned dip into the town’s reserves of $326,000. The town will also pay an increase of $595,000 in debt service principal payments on the site where Town Hall is located and adjacent land.

The council adopted what’s called the “rollback rate,” which is the tax rate needed to raise the same amount of tax revenue as the preceding year, not counting growth from new construction.

Although no officers were added to the $9.3 million police budget, contract police services increased almost $533,000 due to increases in insurance premiums, overtime charges and fringe benefits.

“I think it’s exciting that we are not raising our taxes,” Loyzelle said. “I think that it’s exciting that we were able to go to the rollback rate. I think we could have still done that with some of the reconfiguring of the line items in the budget and have an additional police officer. I wanted to share that with you because I feel, I am passionate about the safety of our community.”

No jobs will be cut in the spending plan.

“As a manager, to see that between the budget workshops ... and then the budget hearings, to see very little attendance, I am hearing the council members say that their constituents are very satisfied with the way the city is operating and functioning, and the rollback rate,” Casals said.