Miami-Dade County taxes, already slashed, may fall lower yet
By Ashley Hopkins
As the Miami-Dade County Commission considers Mayor Carlos Gimenez's 2011-2012 budget proposal, Chairman Joe Martinez is questioning whether the commission might be able to lower property taxes, which it recently slashed, even further.
Mr. Gimenez has supported lower rates since 2010 budget hearings, after which the commission increased the debt service rate from .285 mils under a cap of .39 mils to .445 mils to fund more general obligation bonds.
The commission agreed July 19 to cap the combined tax rate at 9.7405 mils, down from 11.0498, but at last week's committee of the whole meeting Mr. Martinez suggested there might be room to lower the rate further.
Once Mr. Gimenez releases an outline detailing how he plans to consolidate departments, Mr. Martinez said, the county could realize savings that would allow the commission to reduce the rate more.
"The restructuring plan… will save us a lot of money… but until you have that plan, you don't know," he said. "From what I've heard, the savings will be substantial. I may want to cut the millage further."
Last week taxpayers received a notice of proposed property taxes from the Office of the County Property Appraiser outlining how much they would be paying if the county's proposed budget change were adopted in September. By law the commission may not exceed that level but it can reduce it, which would end up with taxes lower than the notices specify.
Admitting that some projects might not be completed as quickly as in the past under the .285 mil bond repayment rate, in a prior interview Mr. Gimenez warned that the administration needed to provide the commission with more information about how funding one project could affect both county initiatives and the debt service rate.
Having supported Mr. Gimenez's call to lower the debt service rate in July, at the committee of the whole meeting Commissioner Dennis Moss noted that while the commission might want to push a number of initiatives down the governmental pipeline, the county is working with limited resources.
"We all need to be reminded that we made a decision not too long ago about where the current millage rate is going to be this year," Mr. Moss said. "We made a decision, and within that decision there are certain parameters and certain limitations that we're going to be faced with."
Commissioner Lynda Bell said she was concerned with the debt associated with the millage rate. While most debt stems from airport and seaport projects funded through general obligation bonds, she said, she recommended the county consider consolidating finances before debt service reaches "unsustainable levels."
"Tough economic times provide a wonderful opportunity to take a look at where we can find those dollars, where we can cut," Ms. Bell said. "This tough budget is going to cause us to take an extra look at the way we operate and streamline how we do business."
Last week's meeting produced no action. Budget hearings are Sept. 8 and 22.
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