Council sets rollback rate for property tax

Government By Alexandra Herrera, Reporter Thursday, July 20, 2023

     Miami Lakes property owners may see a reduction in town taxes next year after the council chose the rollback rate for 2023 – 2024.

     In a split vote on July 11, the council set the tentative millage rate of 2.0732, or $2.07 per $1,000 of assessed property.

     It’s believed to be the lowest millage rate in the town’s history.

     A homeowner whose property has a taxable value of $500,000, less a $50,000 homestead exemption, may expect a tax levy from the town of $932.94. 

     Compared to last fiscal year, that taxpayer will save approximately $86.94 under the rollback rate, Budget Officer Melissa Hernandez said.  

     Collected taxes under the rollback rate is estimated to be $8,893,153, which is less than the $9,842,390 budgeted amount for police services in fiscal year 2022-2023. 

     The town had projected a $20.6 million preliminary budget for the general fund if the millage rate was going to remain flat at 2.2664.  

     However, with the lower millage rate and less collected in ad valorem revenues as well as not knowing the amounts that all other revenue streams, including from the state and the FPL franchise fee, the size of that fund could not be calculated as of July 14. 

     The general fund pays for basic services such as infrastructure renewal and replacement; police services; contracts for landscaping and janitorial; general liability insurance; health insurance; Florida Retirement System payments and a proposed 5 percent cost of living adjustment for town staff. 

     It also funds the mayor and town council; town clerk; town administration; town attorney; planning and zoning, code compliance; school crossing guards; public works; parks and recreation and the 12 volunteer boards and committees that present activities for residents.

    Town Manager Ed Pidermann told the council that the budget would be finalized ahead of the first hearing on Sept. 14. 

     He said he is also watching the consumer price index, to track the impact of inflation upon contractors' and vendors’ costs and labor contracts.

     Pidermann had recommended the millage rate stay flat at 2.2664, the same as last year though if a property’s value has increased the owner would pay more in taxes.

     The proposed budget had almost $550,000 for additional police costs, Pidermann said. One officer added to the department’s roster could cost around $160,000 per year.

     The millage rate has to be filed with the state and county by Aug. 4. Council members could request a special call meeting before then to address the millage rate again.

     If the council had set a higher millage cap, they would have had room to make cuts in the budget as was done last year and then adopted a lower millage rate in September.

     But five council members -- who may face voters in November 2024 or are term-limited and may seek other elected offices such as town mayor or county office -- tossed that idea after taking six different votes during more than an hour of debate about different millage rates.

     Mayor Manny Cid bristled at having to work with the draft spending plan.

      “I would prefer you give us a number and we workshop it,” Cid said. “But if you put out these [budget] recommendations, we have to tell staff no on a COLA. … Reality is we’re the ones held accountable. 

     “Once you start putting out these recommendations before we vote on the millage it puts us in a precarious situation,” Cid said.

     Cid has told media outlets he is interested in running for a county office.

     Councilman Tony Fernandez is running to retain Seat 1; Councilman Ray Garcia is serving his first term and Councilman Josh Dieguez is fulfilling his second term, which ends in 2026.

     All other town officeholders are term-limited and could run for town mayor, though none have yet declared they are candidates.

     The council held a budget workshop on July 10. Cid, Vice Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Fernandez did not attend. 

     Councilman Luis Collazo, who called in to the council meeting from his vacation, said, “I think we have to confront each other and stop the political posturing and see where we can actually tighten the belt and capture the initiatives.” 

     He said prior councils haven’t returned budget surpluses to residents or reduced the millage rate.

    Fighting for the flat millage rate, Garcia said, “... the rollback rate although politically sounds great, it is not the right thing to do right now.

     “We still have to provide services to our residents. Costs have gone up,” Garcia said. 

     “We decided that public safety was the number one priority and additional officers is one way of doing that. We will not be doing that.”

    Councilwoman Marilyn Ruano argued for the rollback rate: “This is our opportunity to go back to basics and deliver core municipal functions and nothing more. No bells, no whistles, actually deliver what the community wants without any add-ons.”

     Dieguez said, “Maybe we need to see what the rollback rate looks like for one year. We may have people yelling at us at this time next year.”

    Cid asked Pidermann, “Mr. Manager, I just have one question for you. Do you think … if the whole council agrees to vote on a little bit higher millage instead of the rollback rate, do you think there is an opportunity to add two officers?”

     Pidermann said “No” and Cid replied, “Got it. I am for the rollback rate. That made it very easy for me.”

    In the final vote, Collazo and Garcia were against the rollback rate.

     Cid, Alvarez, Fernandez, Dieguez and Ruano voted for it.

     If the town hires two more police officers, other spending areas will suffer, Pidermann said after the meeting. 

     Council members have previously asked Pidermann to find money to fund police to manage traffic during rush hour and to prevent car burglaries. It’s not yet known whether those initiatives may continue. 

     Cid posted on social media that the rollback rate means a 9.3 percent savings to residents and that the tax cut would happen “while maintaining the same level of service.”