Miami Beach

Miami Beach looking at 12 percent hike in water rates

The Miami Beach City Commission’s finance committee passed proposals Friday to lower the property tax rate, raise water and sewer rates and consider increasing on-street parking rates.

The committee, made up of city commissioners Deede Weithorn, Micky Steinberg and Ed Tobin, backed a 12 percent increase in water and sewer rates at the recommendation of city staff. The increase is meant to cover higher fees from the Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer Department. Miami Beach pays WASD for the potable water and the treatment of sewage.

The average rate-payer will pay about $14 more a month for water and sewer service. Adding in a recently-passed 84 percent increase to storm-water rates to combat sea-level rise, fees will be going up about $21 a month starting Oct. 1, when the new fiscal year begins.

Public works director Eric Carpenter told commissioners that during the last few years of county increases, the city has been depleting a fund designated for stabilizing rate increases in an effort to keep user fees down since 2011. As a result, the sewer utility has been operating at a deficit since last year.

Weithorn suggested incremental increases during the next three years, a suggestion supported by other commissioners. But after city CFO Patricia Walker told commissioners that approach could hurt the city’s bond rating, all agreed to up the rates now.

“I know it’s the right thing to do, so I’ll move it,” Tobin said.

The committee also approved a pilot program where demand would dictate the price in the parking lot at 46th Street and Collins Avenue.

“Those parking spaces in highest demand should reflect the highest fees and those in lowest demand should reflect should reflect lower fees to encourage their use,” reads a staff report from the parking department.

The parking department will also look into raising on-street rates near garages after commissioners said the increase would discourage drivers from circling streets in hopes of finding a free meter and use the cheaper garages instead.

“It should be more than 25 cents in any areas where there’s a nearby parking lot,” Tobin said.

After the meeting, Weithorn said the city isn’t as concerned with higher revenues as it is with reducing congestion.

“It’s really not about the money,” she said. “It’s about changing behavior.”

City parking officials will come back with a proposal later in the fall.

The committee also announced another decrease in the property tax rate. The commission will now consider a rate of about $6.02 per taxable assessed property value. That’s down from a previously proposed rate of about $6.09 per $1,000. The lower rate comes from decreases in debt service and the operating budget.

Under this proposed rate, the typical homeowner with a home assessed at about $197,000 would pay about $887 in city taxes, about $13 less than last year. That’s assuming the property owner qualifies for the standard homestead exemption and the home’s assessed value increased by 1.5 percent, the maximum allowed by law this year for an owner-occupied home.

Miami-Dade County, the school board and other agencies levy their taxes separately.

The City Commission will hold two public hearings in September on the proposed budget for the 2014-2016 fiscal year at City Hall, 1700 Convention Center Drive . The first is scheduled for 5:01 p.m. Sept. 10. The second will be at the same time on Sept. 30.

Under state law, the hearings must be held after 5 p.m. to facilitate public participation.