Editorials

Bad blood over property taxes

TNS

The Miami-Dade School Board is thinking about suing the county and Mayor Carlos Gimenez. At issue: the long-simmering dispute over the slow pace of delivering the property-tax money that educates kids and pays their teachers.

The bad blood uncharacteristically came to a boil at last week’s School Board meeting during discussion of the “let’s sue them” resolution introduced by board member Raquel Regalado. The United Teachers of Dade has already filed a similar lawsuit, blaming the county and the mayor for teacher raises that did not materialize.

Obviously, the school system has decided to play hardball, tired of having the $30 million to $40 million it should receive annually delayed as homeowners appeal the assessed value of their homes to the property appraiser’s office and the Value Adjustment Board. Homeowners, of course, have a right to take such action, especially after so many homes were overvalued during the downturn.

At the School Board meeting, accusations flung at the mayor and the county lasted hours, forcing people to pay attention to this below-the-radar topic: How do property taxes get allocated and how long should that take?

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said that not knowing how much or when the property-tax money will come in plays havoc with his annual budget. “Our students suffer and our employees suffer,” he said. Last year, $40 million arrived late. The county and cities also were hit by this delay.

“I get that this figure is a moving target for the county, but it can’t be a moving target for the school district,” Ms. Regalado told the Editorial Board. She blames Mayor Gimenez. The mayor says there is nothing he can legally do to fix the problem.

“This does not fall under my domain,” Mr. Gimenez told the Editorial Board. “I believe that this is political and has to do with someone’s political aspirations. They’re throwing everything at me and hoping something sticks.”

Mr. Carvalho said pointing the finger at the county establishment responsible for timely tax collections has nothing to do with politics. “I want our kids to get what all other kids in the state get,” he said. Ms. Regalado has not decided yet if she’ll seek another public office. Regardless, she said, “the mayor should be out there trying to help negotiate a solution.”

But we think Ms. Regalado recent attacks on the mayor are misdirected, although he could have been a more forceful voice in this long-running drama. But even fellow school board member Susie Castillo found Regalado’s criticism out of bounds. She spoke up in defense of Gimenez, saying she was uncomfortable with a county official being so publically “bad mouthed” at a school board meeting.

Mr. Gimenez and his staff are right when they say that under law, the property appraiser and the VAB do not answer to the mayor. It’s the Florida Legislature that can revise certain rules regulating appeals, but since Miami-Dade is the only one of the 67 counties facing this dilemma, lawmakers aren’t likely to make this a priority. Still, Mr. Gimenez says he plans to push the issue with the Miami-Dade delegation. Mr. Carvalho and Ms. Regalado, wisely, have already done so.

Property Appraiser Pedro Garcia told the Editorial Board he has already met with the mayor and Mr. Carvalho in the past few weeks and told them that the number of appeals has dropped from 100,000 in the past to 58,376 last year, and he hopes to be caught up by March. That’s good news. Mr. Gimenez agrees, though Mr. Carvalho said that this won’t help much during this fiscal year.

Bottom line: The School Board and the county are in the same boat on this one. If the true goal is to shake loose the tax money on time, they should work together toward a long-lasting solution.

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