Miami-Dade appraiser to notify taxpayers of millage increase, with explanation
By Risa Polansky
Miami-Dade commissioners may have left it up to newly elected Property Appraiser Pedro Garcia to set a tax-rate cap — but he's taken it upon himself to ensure that property owners understand who will actually be levying the taxes.
Every year, local governments must set a millage ceiling and advertise it to property owners in advance of adopting a budget and settling on a final tax rate.
Usually, commissioners vote on the cap and the property appraiser sends word to taxpayers in a truth in millage, or TRIM, notice.
This time, Miami-Dade commissioners — unable to agree on a tax-rate ceiling after two lengthy meetings and vote after failed vote — decided not to set one.
In such a case, state law says it comes down to the local appraiser.
Because the commission adjourned its meeting without setting a millage cap, Mr. Garcia must advertise what's called the "rollback rate," or, the millage rate needed for the county to generate the same revenue as the year before.
This means Mr. Garcia must notify taxpayers of an 11.01 maximum total millage — up from last year's 9.74 mils, according to county documents.
Opposing commissioners protested defaulting to Mr. Garcia. Some called it "passing the buck."
Mr. Garcia said he doesn't see it that way.
"I'm never offended," he said, allowing that the commission is "taking a little bit of time to make some tough decisions."
But to snuff out any potential misperceptions, he's enclosing an explanation in the TRIM notices to taxpayers — "an explanation what a rollback means and who is the one making the decision on the millage… and we as property appraisers don't set any taxes whatsoever, so we explain that very clear to them," he said in an interview Tuesday.
He decided after the commission's action last week to draw up the explanation and include it in the notices along with other informational material.
"This is the first time we have a rollback when we have a declining market. This is my first year as property appraiser," Mr. Garcia said. "So I want to be sure that everybody understands what we are doing and who's responsible for the millage and the taxes and who's responsible to establish the value, and that's my main concern."
In the end, it will be up to commissioners.
Though state law provides a backup when governing bodies don't agree on a millage ceiling, the commission itself must set a final tax rate.
"To levy a tax the commission will have to set a millage," said James Kracht, chief of the County Attorney's Office Tax and Finance Section, in an interview.
Mayor Carlos Alvarez in his proposed budget recommended raising part of the millage slightly, eliminating 1,780 county positions, cutting pay 5% across the board, eliminating funding to community-based organizations, and other measures to fill a $427 million gap created by plummeting property tax and other revenues.
During the commission's two hours-long attempts to agree on a millage ceiling, they voted down Mr. Alvarez's proposed 9.8 total millage.
Setting the total tax rate the same as last year — 9.74 — also failed, as did an outright vote to fix the ceiling at the 11.01 rollback rate, where Mr. Garcia will end up having to set it.
At one point during the commission's second meeting, a motion to set the countywide operating portion of the millage at 4.8378, down slightly from last year's 4.8379, passed by one vote.
But soon after the commission began a new discussion, Commissioner Bruno Barreiro said he'd make a motion to reconsider that decision in favor of adjourning the meeting instead.
When Commissioner Natacha Seijas — the first to propose ending the meeting and leaving it up to appraiser Mr. Garcia to set the millage ceiling — made the formal move to adjourn, Commission Chair Dennis Moss called her motion "out of order."
But the commission voted to overrule him, and the meeting ended without a tax-rate cap set.
"The reason to adjourn has nothing to do with your leadership. It has to do because we're not getting anywhere, and there is an option that can be addressed," Ms. Seijas said, referring to the state provision that calls for the appraiser to advertise the rollback millage. "I think we need to adjourn and let the world know that we have tried and tried and tried, but we can still continue to try."
Now, commissioners can work to build a budget within the limit of the rollback, though they technically didn't vote to set the tax-rate ceiling there.
Thus far, some refuse to ultimately raise taxes, while others oppose drastic social services cuts or layoffs.
The fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
The commission is to hold budget hearings Sept. 3 and 17 to hear from constituents.
Budget, Planning and Sustainability Chair Katy Sorenson is suggesting commissioners also hold meetings in their districts to get a better feel for residents' needs and priorities.
Chairman Moss has asked commissioners not to come to the table with a program, service or position they want spared without a proposed alternative for filling the resulting gap. Nothing is yet listed on the calendar, but Mr. Moss said he is considering budget work sessions in August and plans to consult Commissioner Sorenson for direction.