Miami Lakes

Miami Lakes adopts budget with changes

Miami Lakes council members gave final approval Tuesday to the town’s $30 million budget after making a handful of changes to the town manager’s original proposal for 2015.

The Town Council unanimously adopted a tax rate of $2.35 per 1,000 in taxable property value, which will become effective Oct. 1.

Town Manager Alex Rey did not recommend a lower tax rate due to higher fees for police services from Miami-Dade County and lower franchise fees collected from Florida Power & Light.

As requested by the council at the first budget hearing on Sept. 9, the manager came to the second budget hearing with various suggestions on how to fund the town’s committees.

“I want to thank the manager and staff for the amount of work and effort that they’ve put into trying to support and find the funds that we need for our committees,” said Councilman Tony Lama. “I think it’s important for everyone to know that we’re using carry-over funds, so we’re not tapping into additional dollars here. We’re using carry over funds to fill that gap, this is stuff that was budgeted for the current fiscal year that’s closing out. It’s a win for everyone.”

The youth activities task force, the elderly affairs committee, the cultural affairs committee and educational advisory committee each wanted more than they had been allocated in the town manager’s spending plan. Together the committees requested an additional $38,400.

The manager recommended using carry-over funds from the town’s current budget to cover the requests, which was approved by the council.

At an earlier meeting, the council had deferred adopting a solid-waste franchise fee, which was a $50,000 reduction in revenue from the budget. The fee would have been charged to companies who collect trash from condos and businesses; critics said the haulers would pass on the fee to customers.

As a result of the deficit, the manager suggested combining the $29,000 that was originally amended for the town marketing program and deferring $21,000 from the town’s black olive tree removal program to make up the lost funds. Officials have been trying to eradicate the 3,040 black olive trees in the town because its berries leave stains and its root lift sidewalks and wrap around utility lines.

“It doesn’t affect our recurring maintenance activities, but it does affect the long-term, 10-year plan that we have for the black olives. But I think we should be able to find extra money the following year to make up that shortage,” Rey said.

Vice Mayor Manny Cid voiced concern over decreasing the amount of money in the black olive removal program.

“I do have a bit of heartburn in regards to the black olive removal program,” said Cid. “That’s a very popular program. I think it’s very important because it’s an everyday issue.”

Councilman Ceasar Mestre said he would support the amendment, but added that he does not plan to put the marketing plan aside.

Mestre believes that the marketing plan will bring businesses to the empty lots within the town.

“I think that if we get those spaces filled, we’ll be helping some of the landowners that are contributing to this, but we’re going to be helping our residents by increasing revenue,” said Mestre. “I will be bringing that back in November and it’ll be in regards to the carry-over funds.”

The amendment passed without dissent.

Also towards the end of the year, Rey said he would be bringing up a performance-based bonus program for the town’s employees.

Before the final votes were taken for the budget and tax rate, Lama brought up concerns from emails that were sent to the council by the Miami Lakes Citizens Principles of Fiscal Responsibility demanding changes in the budget, which included allotments for council member’s travel and reimbursement.

Councilman Frank Mingo called the emails “political attacks” although he said he was willing to forgo his travel allotment if necessary. He said the council shouldn’t fall into the trap of second- guessing their actions.

Lama originally proposed reducing travel expenses, but then withdrew his motion.