Miami adds $2 billion to tax base, $15.3 million in revenue
By Susan Stabley
The City of Miami has added $2 billion this year to its tax base, increasing revenues by $15.3 million.
It's an increase in the city's taxable assessed value of 14.5%, City Commission Chairman Johnny Winton said Friday.
"That's a tremendous amount of product," said Commissioner Winton, who said it is the result of "an unprecedented growth cycle."
Perhaps not an exaggeration when one considers that in 1997 Miami was on the verge of bankruptcy and making national news for a drive by voters to eliminate city government.
Most recently, Miami's tax base grew 13.5% in 2002 and 10% in 2001. Commissioner Winton said he expects double-digit increases for the next two years.
The city has an estimated $19.4 billion in non-exempt taxable property, according to the Miami-Dade County property appraiser.
Mayor Manny Diaz, during his address on the city's proposed budget for next year at the commission's meeting Thursday, said $5 billion in private and public projects are under way or in the planning process. The city has $100 million in capital-improvement projects under contract or in the design phase, including new parks and infrastructure.
It's a significant turnaround for a city that in 1996 fell into a $68 million deficit. For the past six years, Miami has managed to keep its general fund in the black, and there was a sizable operating surplus at the end of fiscal year 2002. In May, city bonds were upgraded from junk to an 'A' rating.
Local officials have credited the recovery to the restructuring of the city's administration, an influx of business professionals into the city staff and the guidance of an oversight board, appointed by the governor, that created a fiscal recovery plan after the city was declared in a state of financial emergency.
The city's millage rate has also been reduced every year for the past five years, Mayor Diaz said in this year's address.
This fiscal year's proposed budget, preliminarily approved 4-1 by commissioners, sets a rate of 9.8425 mills for a total of $623 million in revenue - of which $416.5 million would go into the general fund. Commissioner Tomas Regalado was the dissenting vote.
The flush of funds has allowed the city to present a budget with no increases in taxes or fees. Mayor Diaz said another $16 million was added to the city's bottom line through a 3% cut in expenses "across the board."
However, the city must budget $44 million to its pension fund, a $21.5 million more than was dedicated last year. That amount figures out to be 10.5 percent of the general budget.
The city must cover losses in its pension fund suffered by market investments gone sour. Even though the pension fund is not managed by the city's administration, its policy makers are responsible for paying the bills, said city spokesman Carlos McDonald.
The losses effectively ate up gains made by the city.
"What a disaster," Commissioner Winton said. "Thank god for the growth. Otherwise, we'd be raising taxes."
While the millage has been adjusted down, the decrease is slight, to 8.7625 from 8.85 for the general fund and to 1.08 from 1.218 for debt service.
One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value. Under the new budget, property assessed at $100,000 would be taxed at $984.25, with $876.25 going to the general fund and $108 to debt service.