Miami Beach

Oops 2.0: Like county, Miami Beach will have to redo budget, tax votes

City Manager Jimmy Morales, pictured here in April, informed elected leaders that Miami Beach will have to reapprove its 2015 budget and property-tax rates.
City Manager Jimmy Morales, pictured here in April, informed elected leaders that Miami Beach will have to reapprove its 2015 budget and property-tax rates. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Make that two local governments that will have to adopt their 2015 budgets and property-tax rates again — two months after the new fiscal year began — after bungling public notices in September.

The city of Miami Beach has been cited by a state agency for a mistake in a newspaper advertisement that underestimated how much revenue would come into an area of the city targeted for redevelopment. The Florida Department of Revenue also dinged Miami-Dade County this week for making its own advertising error.

Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales informed Mayor Philip Levine and city commissioners in a memo Thursday that a do-over of the Sept. 30 budget and tax-rate votes is needed — along with another public hearing — in the next two weeks. Morales asked for it all to take place Dec. 2.

“My prediction: It will last 30 seconds,” Levine told the Miami Herald on Thursday.

Like with the county, there will be no need to mail new tax notices to property owners, because the numbers listed in them were correct, according to Morales.

“Nothing is changing,” Morales told the Herald. “The only issue is that we accurately need to reflect the statutory requirement.”

Florida outlined Miami Beach’s violation in a Nov. 14 letter the city received Monday, the same day the state formally notified the county of its own, separate problem. When the Herald asked Tuesday for a list of municipalities facing similar penalties, the Department of Revenue didn’t include Miami Beach because the city made a mistake in a different type of public notice than the county did.

Florida faults numerous jurisdictions across the state every year for failing to comply with the state’s Truth in Millage (TRIM) law, intended to provide taxpayers with transparent information about proposed tax rates, or millages. Lack of compliance can result in the state withholding tax revenues from local governments.

Six local taxing authorities were found to have various non-compliance issues last year, according to the state agency.

But no two Miami-Dade municipalities in recent memory — certainly not ones as large as the county and the Beach — have had to redo their budget votes in the same year. The 2014-15 fiscal year began Oct. 1.

In a special meeting Thursday, county commissioners decided without discussion to schedule their new budget hearing for 5:01 p.m. Dec. 4.

At issue are legally required notices, to be published in a local newspaper, informing taxpayers of upcoming tax rates. The one the county flubbed was a “Notice of Proposed Tax Increase.” The one Miami Beach botched was a “Budget Summary.”

In Miami Beach’s case, the city published an ad on page 11NE of the Miami Herald Neighbors section on Sept. 25 that listed a more conservative estimate for the amount of 2015 taxes for the Center City Redevelopment Area. The law requires the city to calculate that 95 percent of taxes for the area will be collected, but the city used 93 percent — closer to what it will actually receive, according to Morales.

“I have reviewed the matter with the City’s budget staff and feel that their intent was to be more accurate than TRIM law currently provides,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, TRIM law is very specific when it comes to numbers advertised as part of the annual budget process.”

In the future, Miami Beach will send a draft of its notice to the state before publication to ensure compliance, Morales wrote.

He added that, as a disciplinary action, he has suspended Budget Director John Woodruff for three days without pay: “The salary savings from the suspension more than cover the necessary costs.”

County Mayor Carlos Gimenez suspended three budget administrators without pay — one for five days, one for three and Director Jennifer Moon for one. In an apparently unprecedented move, he also required the cost of the new Herald advertisement to be deducted from Moon’s $218,000 annual salary. The county couldn’t find any example of a similar punishment exacted on any other employee.

The county initially estimated the cost of the advertisement at around $12,000, though it could be slightly lower.

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