Miami commission approves $2.5B budget, tax break at Saturday hearing

Miami Commissioners approved a $2.5 billion budget Saturday after almost zero discussion and a weekend public hearing that lasted about two hours.

They call it a $1.5 billion budget, but that’s just for operating expenses. The capital projects budget is almost another $981 mil.

“This budget cuts taxes, meets our challenges, leverages our progress, and builds for our future,” Mayor Francis Suarez wrote in his budget message. “It is a budget that we can all support, adopt and use to build a better Miami for everyone.”

Read related: Miami-Dade passes $10B budget w/ tiny tax ‘cut’ and shady ‘ambassadors’ fund

Suarez said the millage rate has been cut to the lowest rate in Miami history. It’s not truly the roll back rate, said Budget Director Marie Gouin. It’s almosts 10% more than the roll back rate, which would have left taxes flat. Homeowners will still pay more taxes because property values rose, but the the lowered tax rate saves the average valued home’s owner $31.

For every dollar paid by a Miami taxpayer, Gouin said the city gets 37 cents. Miami-Dade County gets 24 cents and Miami-Dade County Public Schools gets 34 cents. The rest go to smaller taxing authorities.

According to the budget in brief she presented, just over 50% of the general fund ($490.6 million) comes from property taxes. Another 13% ($126.7 million) comes from services. Almost half the general fund, or about $452 million, goes to employee salaries. The next highest cost is employee benefits at $269.3 million. Together, salaries and benefits account for almost 75% of the general fund spending.

If you go by function, a little more than half the general fund goes to public safety.

This year, the city has to add $18 million to subsidize the trolley service, after the county stopped providing funding to the city “based on some discrepancies they see,” Gouin said.

Read related: Miami-Dade CITT to city of Miami: No more 1/2 cent transit funding for you!

“But we are working with them, trying to justify it and try to clear it out so we can start to get those dollars again,” she said. But the $18 million is in the budget “just in case there’s no agreement by Oct. 1 and that’s a need that’s still outstanding.”

Several climate activists urged the city commission to add $154,000 to the resiliency and sustainability department to hire more staff, but only a few groups requested more funding.

Damian Pardo, of 4Ward Miami and the Gay8 Festival wants the city to provide more funding and presented a fantastic video of how the festival has grown from 2016 into the largest diversity festival in the country. The Liberty City Community Revitalization Trust got an additional $296,000 for a total of $495K for their youth employment and empowerment programs.

But the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust, which had requested an additional $300,000 to hire five additional staffers, got a tongue lashing instead from Commissioner Joe Carollo, who has waged war on the historic property in what is an apparent effort to develop it (more on that later).

There could be more changes made. The second budget hearing is at 5:01 p.m. on Sept. 22. That’s a Thursday.