In March 2011, Miami-Dade voters recalled Mayor Carlos Alvarez after he raised the property tax rate. During the campaign to replace him, Carlos Gimenez promised to reverse that tax rate hike.
"I will cut the tax rate by eliminating the Alvarez tax increases," Gimenez said at a June 22 news conference just days before the June 28 election. "Our government is just too big and too expensive. Taxpayers want and deserve a government we can afford. We need to eliminate duplication, eliminate unfilled positions and focus on essential services."
Gimenez had little time to wait to attempt to deliver on that promise after winning the election. About two weeks after he won, he unveiled his proposed annual budget for the next fiscal year which starts Oct. 1.
A brief primer on the Miami-Dade County tax bill. The county's portion of the tax bill includes separate line items countywide, fire service, library, Unincorporated Municipal Services Area for those living in that area and debt. County taxes pay for a variety of services including the salaries for police officers and firefighters, maintaining county parks, posting traffic signs and preparing for emergencies such as hurricanes. Property owners also pay taxes to other jurisdictions such as the school district and their city.
And now a word about tax rates. A property owner's tax bill is determined based on the value of their property multiplied by the tax rate. For a homeowner, that could mean if the value of their home nosedives -- as many did in recent years -- even if the tax rate increases their property tax bill could decline.
Alvarez faced the same problem of many local government taxing authorities: property values had fallen, which meant the county had to slash services and layoff staff, increase the tax rate or a combination.
So Alvarez and the county commission hiked the tax rate -- though Gimenez, at the time a county commissioner, voted against it in September 2010, according to the Miami Herald. Even with a higher tax rate, the county anticipated at the time that it would collect about $49 million less in revenue and layoff hundreds of workers. County spokeswoman Suzy Trutie said for the 2010-11 year the county was budgeted to receive $50 million less in property taxes and 264 people were laid off.
The total tax rate in 2008-09 and 2009-10 was $9.7405 per $1,000 of taxable property (it was less for those who didn't have to pay the unincorporated services fee area line item). Under Mayor Alvarez, that total rate increased to $11.0498.
On July 13, Gimenez proposed dropping back to the $9.7405 rate. To get to that lower rate, Gimenez proposed cutting about 1,300 positions -- about 500 vacant and 800 filled, reducing funding for cultural organizations among other service cuts.
Less than a week later, the Miami-Dade County Commission voted 9-1 in favor of the lower tax rate. The commission will finalize the rate in September. Commissioner Barbara Jordan voted against the tax rate decline while Commissioners Audrey Edmonson, Sally Heyman and Esteban Bovo were absent. Commissioners tweaked with the details -- boosting taxes for libraries and decreasing the portion for fire services but they didn't change Gimenez's combined total tax rate.
That means the Alvarez tax rate increase is gone. And for Gimenez, that's a Promise Kept.