Monday, September 27, 2010

More about property taxes in Miami

I don’t usually trust billionaires when discussing politics.  

In this case, however, my sympathy goes to Normal Braman, one of the richest men in Florida whose interests or beliefs surprisingly coincide with those of the common citizen of Miami.

The City of Miami and Miami-Dade County have never been an example of incorruptible public officers.

I recall the Marlins' Stadium outrageous situation when the City and County of Miami agreed to finance it at taxpayer's expense. A team worth hundreds of millions of dollars was blackmailing a city in need of every penny to improve public services and education.   

With a  totally convoluted reasoning, Miami commissioners never talked and acted businesslike when confronted to shrewd corporate interests. 

They could have asked for partial ownership of the team, or repayment of the city's loan with part of the team's revenue. But we would listen for hours to their speeches and discourse, never to get any reasonable explanation.   

And in spite of the strong opposition and action of Norman Braman, and most of Miami's people, it just passed. The Marlins Stadium will be built by Miami.

And at the present time,while the Marlins are making a handsome profit,  Miami is increasing its tax rate by a shameful percentage. 

Too late, it seems, to reclaim taxpayer's money. But never too late to add to the suffering of their beleaguered citizens.

Here is what I read today, that sounds like a payback, but is more like a little bit of justice. 

Norman Braman launches drive to recall Mayor Carlos Alvarez 

Billionaire businessman Norman Braman announced Monday he is launching a petition drive to recall Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez. He said, however, he will not seek the recall of sitting county commissioners -- at least not yet.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez boosted the authority of his office and became a ``strong mayor'' through a petition drive. But now, a new ballot initiative could trigger his political undoing.

For the second time this year, an effort to recall the county mayor has been launched. Unlike the unsuccessful effort waged on a shoe-string budget by a Coral Gables retiree, the new campaign is backed by Norman Braman -- an auto dealer not shy to use his private fortune to battle public officials.

The move comes after the mayor and eight county commissioners approved a 13 percent property tax rate increase last week to plug a budget hole for the coming fiscal year, and after mounting criticism over other county spending. 

Braman had pledged to launch recall efforts of the mayor and any commissioners who backed the tax hike. On Monday he followed through with the promise to target the county mayor, but said he's not currently pursuing sitting commissioners.

``This outrageous tax increase has been enacted while citizens are suffering economically, property values have crumbled, foreclosures are rampant, and unemployment has reached almost 13 percent in our county,'' Braman said.
The businessman said he's launching the campaign so ``the citizens of this community finally may have their voices heard.''
In a mid-day news conference, Alvarez responded that the property tax rate had to be increased to protect vital services, like fire and police.
" It is Mr. Braman's right to do this,'' said Alvarez, with County Manager George Burgess at his side. ``Quite frankly, I don't worry about things I can't control.''
The mayor later added: ``I will worry about running county government until the citizens of Miami-Dade County tell me otherwise.''

The recall reflects the shifting political fortunes of a county mayor ushered into office in 2004 as a former police director bent on bringing common sense reform to a county government frequently embroiled in scandal.

Indeed, in 2007 voters backed a petition-drive by Alvarez to further empower him by shifting the county manager's office and the entire county bureaucracy under the mayor's direct control. The move was supported, in part, because vesting power in a single, term-limited leader -- namely, Alvarez -- was viewed as the best alternative to improve county government.
But as the economy has worsened, Alvarez has come under fire.
In 2009 he declared that government ``must do more with less'' but then handed out double-digit pay raises to his top aides.
Separately, Alvarez initially defended his chief of staff -- whom he'd given a hefty raise on the grounds of increased responsibility -- after Miami Herald reports the top staffer was working as a private consultant in Panama on county time. He later demoted the aide amid escalating criticism.
Other criticism centers on the county's decision to use public funding for a new Florida Marlins baseball stadium in Little Havana. The mayor said the stadium is bringing jobs to an economy in desperate need of them.

Braman, joined at the press conference by state Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, majority whip in the Legislature and a Miami Republican, said it is time for change. 

Thursday, September 09, 2010

This is what I'm talking about

A few days ago, I posted some comments regarding my new property tax bill.
In essence, the City of Hallandale Beach and Broward County have chosen to substantially increase their tax rate instead of trying to adjust their budget to a new reality.

Downgrading and thrift are the way to go. Continuously raising taxes to support an inflexible path of so called "growth" is irresponsible. 
It is sad to observe that citizens' response has been almost inexistent. We are sitting back, while our pockets are being sacked. Broward is our county and Hallandale Beach is our city.
We should be able to make our elected officers  work for us, not against us. 

We are tolerating that, while services provided are diminished and degraded, our taxes go up every year.

This year will mean for many "homestead" beneficiaries, an approximate 10% increase, in a time of zero-inflation. 

Is this ridiculous? Tragic would be more like it. People losing their jobs, their homes; retirees whose savings have been almost wiped out by the economy, shouldn't be confronted with this type of issue.

I am reading today on  which covers Florida West Coast an article about how Venice, Fl. has addressed the issue. A good example to follow.

Venice tax rate held flat

BUDGET: 4-to-3 vote means city will have to use $3 million out of reserves

VENICE, FL.  Despite advertising a potential 29 percent property tax rate increase for the 2010-11 budget, the City Council voted Tuesday to keep the rate flat.  The decision marks a continuation of a decade-long streak of either lowering or maintaining the tax rate.
Property owners will continue to pay 2.77 mills, the equivalent of $2.77 per $1,000 of taxable property value. 

The council must approve the budget and tax rate at a second public hearing Sept. 21.  After two hours of spirited debate, the council voted 4-3 to maintain the current rate.  Council members Emilio Carlesimo, Kit McKeon and Mayor Ed Martin opposed the idea. Council members Sue Lang, John Moore, Jim Bennett and Ernie Zavodnyik voted for keeping the rate the same.
"I fear we are kicking the can down the road," said McKeon, before the vote, expressing concern about dipping into savings to fund the operating budget. "To be fiscally responsible, we have to maintain the proper fund reserve."  But Lang, who is up for re-election along with Zavodnyik, said with the economy struggling, residents cannot pay more. Reading tax statements from residents who have seen their properties decline in value while they are paying more in property taxes, Lang said the council needs to cut spending and use reserves.  "We have a reserve fund" that is in good shape, Lang said. "I would rather have people go and spend that money in our local economy." 

The council will have to use about $3.1 million of its $9.2 million or so in reserves to sustain its $22 million budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. It will collect about $800,000 less in taxes than last year because of declining property values.

 City Manager Isaac Turner has laid off four employees and left jobs unfilled to balance the budget. He expressed concern about deficit spending.  "We are below what your goal is for reserves," Turner said. "We will need to immediately identify where we are going to make that up."  Before the vote, Zavodnyik proposed eliminating city provided health insurance for council members. Carlesimo made a motion to eliminate council member pensions, provided by the state after six years.

City Attorney Bob Anderson said the council could not vote on the measures because they did not advertise them in advance.  Before the vote, some residents urged the council to not raise the property tax rate.  "It's been nothing but increases," said Mike Rafferty, a resident of Bay Indies, the city's largest mobile home community.

He said the county appraised the community about 18 percent higher than last year. A tax rate increase would mean his taxes would go up, he said.  "If you don't want to take it out of a rainy day fund, don't take it out of my pocket," he said. 

Venice Taxpayers League President Gary Budway said the city should have cut the budget across  the board and suggested Venice consider combining its fire department with the county and hiring a city attorney, rather than contracting with Anderson.