Council approves final budget keeping low tax rate

Community By David L. Snelling, The Miami Laker staff Friday, October 4, 2013

 

Lawmakers for the Town of Miami Lakes gave their final approval for keeping the same rate for property taxes for 2013-2014 and adopted a $15.3 million budget to upgrade public works projects and beautification, and focus more on education after councilmembers learned two perennial A schools could be in jeopardy of losing their mark and state funding. 

At last week’s final budget hearing, councilmembers unanimously approved the 2.3518 tax rate and voted collectively for the spending plan, which is projected to generate about $5.7 million in revenue from ad valorem taxes. 

The rate is $2.3518 per $1,000 of assessed property value, but residents may pay slightly more because of an increase in property values. 

Some lawmakers had indicated they preferred the state’s roll back rate of 2.245 but the new one gives the town more flexibility while balancing the budget with $200,000 in carryover money. 

Town Manager Alex Rey said the tax rate is about 4.72 percent above the roll back rate and is needed to provide for a $325,000 increase in the police budget, which is costing the town $6.8 million for next year. 

At the first budget hearing, councilmembers approved some of the town’s committee’s requests for additional funding, including the Education Advisory Board, which initially asked for $500. But citing the dire need for extra tutoring for the FCAT, the group said $3,000 wasn’t enough, and Miami Lakes K-8 Center and Bob Graham Education Center (BGEC) could drop to an B and lose state funding. 

State officials dole out a lot of money to A schools, said Star Rodriguez, former vice chairwoman of the Miami Lakes Education Advisory Board (EAB), who stepped down to run for a Town Council seat. Miami Lakes K-8 Center has been an A school for 14 consecutive years and BGEC was on the A list for a decade. 

Rodriguez told lawmakers the complicated test continues to pose more challenges for students each year. As a result, the schools dropped several points down during the 2011-2012 school year but earned just enough points to maintain their A grade.

“We are hoping you can find extra money for FCAT tutoring because it’s very important,” said Rodriguez.  At the behest of Councilmember Tim Daubert, lawmakers voted to give the EAB $4,000 solely for FCAT tutoring. The town will use some of the $6,600 in health and medical savings for the program. 

“I don’t want any of our schools dropping down to an B,” said Mayor Ceasar Mestre. The $2,600 left over was earmarked for the Economic Development Committee (EDC) to initiate a program to help Miami Lakes veterans and other residents find jobs in the town. Daubert, who served in the U.S. military, made the suggestion. 

“I don’t think we need it but I am not going to say no,” said Mestre, who’s a member of the EDC. Councilmember Nelson Rodriguez, a Coral Gables firefighter and paramedic, was reluctant to use any health and medical savings to fund other services. 

“You all know how I feel about health, but education and jobs at this point are important,” he said. 

Rey said despite the new changes to the budget, Miami Lakes is still in “good” financial shape with a beginning fund balance of almost $4 million and the $200,000 in carryover money. 

“The $200,000, which is less than one percent of the town’s budget, and given that Miami Lakes still needs to close the fiscal year, I do not recommend re-programming the carry-over funds at this point,” Rey said.

For attorney fees, Councilmember Tony Lama raised a concern over the flat rate charged by a law firm for litigation services and asked Rey to renegotiate a new contract to attenuate the cost.   The  litigation lawyers are billing the town about $7,000 a month for 400 hours a year, but Lama said the firm is being paid while not rendering litigation services. 

“I think we need the law firm to work on a when-needed basis,” Lama said.  

For other revenues, Miami Lakes is projected to generate about $4 million in intergovernmental revenue, $2.5 million in utility taxes, $1.5 million in franchise fees and $1 million in licenses and permits. For expenses, Miami Lakes is planning to spend $2.3 million on parks and recreation, $1.9 million for town administration and finance, and $1.4 million for public works. 

For beautification, Miami Lakes is planning the construction of an additional three entrance features, and set aside funding to begin the implementation of the beautification master plan initiatives.  

Councilmembers approved town wide beautification initiatives for $300,000 for entry features and intersection beautification program, and $2 million for over two years ($1 million for next year) for road resurfacing and drainage improvements in the Lake Martha and  Lake Sarah neighborhoods.

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