South Miami

South Miami finalizes 2015-16 budget, slightly lowers property tax rate

South Miami commissioners on Thursday adopted the city’s 2015-16 fiscal year budget.

A lower property tax rate was the biggest change in the budget process. The city commission had unanimously voted to reduce the tentative rate from $4.36 per $1,000 of taxable property value to $4.30 per $1,000 of taxable property value.

“When this budget process started weeks ago, I committed myself to do the appropriate work to get into the details of what was in the budget,” Commissioner Gabriel Edmond said from the dais. “As I did the work, it became clear to me that we had surpluses of over $5 million, and emergency reserve fund of $4.5 million, and I thought with those kind of reserves that it was appropriate to seek a tax rebate. At our first budget meeting, I came with a number of items. Sadly, I didn’t get a lot of help from my colleagues up here and I was not able to get the tax rate as low as I would have liked.”

“My colleagues have decided that $4.30 is as low as they are going to go and I’m going to have to accept that and support it,” Edmond said. “But I want you all to know that I thought we could have done better and if I would have gotten more help up here, we would have done better.”

Mayor Philip Stoddard, three of four commissioners, city staff, and one resident attended the meeting

“I want to start with a thanks to the budget staff who have done a really excellent job in putting this budget together, making the changes and adding things at the last minute,” City Manager Steven Alexander said at the hearing. “It has been a highly collaborative process.”

Since its Sept. 10 budget hearing, the city incorporated two changes, including: reducing its code compliance fuel expense by $1,500 and eliminating Alexander’s miscellaneous expense amount of $10,000. The fuel expense better reflects the efficiency savings due to code enforcement’s purchase of a fleet of Toyota Priuses.

An ordinance approving the proposed budget was amended to reflect a general fund amount decrease from $18,304,844 to $18,235,267, a people’s transportation increase from $1,508,000 to $1,658,000 and a final budget total increase from $23,731,130 to $23,811,553. The ordinance passed 3-1 with dissent from Edmond.

Edmond said he was “uncomfortable” with several items in the budget. One of his concerns was the city attorney’s $100,000 budget for specialized legal counsel for issues concerning land use, zoning and related planning matters. Edmond was also concerned with the pension plan contribution, in which the city is proposing to join the Florida Retirement System to provide police and general employees with a well established, well-funded retirement plan.

He wanted “more dialogue and a special meeting” regarding the $205,000 raise in contribution. Edmond also said there were reserve funds he did not support.

“Needless to say, I was hopeful that I could work with my colleagues, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to in terms of this budget,” Edmond said from the dais. “There is too much in here that I’m not comfortable with.”

The fiscal budget year begins Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30, 2016.

“If it’s one sign, we have only had one resident come to our last two budget meetings to speak about the budget,” Commissioner Josh Liebman said on the dais. “The way I interpret that is that all 12,000 of our residents approved the budget, with the exception of one person.”