Pinecrest raises tax rate to pay for senior center, park improvement

Pinecrest Village Council members decided to go ahead with two of four new large-scale capital projects under consideration and tentatively approved slightly bumping up next year’s tax rate to $2.30 per $1,000 in property value at their budget hearing Tuesday night.

That means residents will likely see the village break ground on a community center expansion and see major improvements to Coral Pine Park.

For the owner of a home assessed at $575,000, taking the standard $50,000 homestead exemption, next year’s village tax bill would come to $1,227, an increase of about $72. That assumes the home’s assessed value increased by 1.5 percent, the maximum allowed this year under the state constitution.

The council voted for a tax rate ceiling of $2.40 in July to give themselves the leeway to explore expanding the council chamber in the municipal center and major redevelopment at Veterans Wayside Park during the budget planning cycle. Council members ultimately decided to scrap the municipal center expansion indefinitely and find $50,000 within the budget for landscaping at Wayside.

To pay for phases 1 and 2 of the community center expansion and for work at Coral Pine Park – which should cost about $5 million and $900,000 respectively – the village will take out a 20-year bond. That, together with other minor adjustments, will bump up general fund spending next year from the initially proposed $20.76 million to $21.24 million.

Phases 1 and 2 of the community center expansion will include a 7,000-square-foot addition, infrastructure and system upgrades, interior remodeling, and exterior improvements. The budgeted Coral Pine Park improvements include a new playground, a renovated tennis center, and landscaping, although council agreed to revisit the extent of the tennis center renovations in October.

The new $2.30 tax rate passed 4-1, with council member Bob Ross in opposition.

Before the vote, Ross read the village charter provision that allows residents to put the tax rate to a referendum if it exceeds the rate of unincorporated Miami-Dade.

“I don’t see an insurrection coming … but I think that every year or every two years somebody ought to mention that so we get our heads on right about what our job is here and our obligation to provide cost-effective government,” he said.

Countered mayor Cindy Lerner: “You get what you pay for. You live in unincorporated Dade County, you call the police, it takes two hours.”

The tax rate in unincorporated Miami-Dade this year was $1.93 per $1,000, while the village’s rate was $2.20. Both rates were among the lowest in the county. By contrast, South Miami charged $4.36, and Miami Shores charged $8.69.

The new budget will also shift some money initially allocated for federal lobbying to state lobbying, where Lerner said during a budget workshop in August she expected the village might have more luck finding money to build out potable water lines.

Aside from the village clerk and village manager, who will see an $8,000 and $14,000 salary bump respectively, employees village-wide will get a 2.5 percent raise.

With barely a month left in the fiscal year, cities across the county just received word from Florida Power & Light that money from electricity franchise fees – and important revenue source for municipalities – would be less than expected this year because of power plant renovations. In Pinecrest, that shortfall will be about $300,000, said Village Manager Yocelyn Galiano-Gomez.

She told council during the August budget workshop that while the village could afford to absorb the shortfall – new revenues from the Baptist development permits would give the village a roughly $100,000 cushion – the village would be meeting with FPL to try and negotiate for earlier notice in the future.

“We’re going to try and come up with a solution … so that we don’t have these surprises. Whether or not we get a solution, I don’t know, but we’re going to try,” she said on Thursday.

In other business, the council also approved a $200,000 payout to settle litigation ongoing against GREC Pinecrest LLC since 2007, after the village denied the developer’s request for a land-use amendment. The settlement itself will total $3 million, but the village’s insurance with the Florida League of Cities will cover $2.8 million.

The final budget hearing is set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday Sept. 23 in council chambers at 12645 Pinecrest Parkway.