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Written by Michael Lewis on August 19, 2010
By Michael Lewis
As you recoil from your tax warning notice today, ponder this: those multiple tax hikes aren’t the only charges set to rise.
Besides Miami-Dade County’s plan to raise every taxpayer’s rates 12.2% for operations and an incredible 56% for capital spending on undisclosed projects, it also plans to raise retail water and wastewater rates 5%.
As usual at the county, nothing is what it seems — no matter what you’re told, it always costs more.
Though Mayor Carlos Alvarez in his budget message told the world "I have proposed a no tax increase budget," he was proposing a 12.2% operating tax increase from Day 1.
He finally dropped that no-tax-increase claim when he told the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce this month that his proposed budget would not increase county revenue — far different from not raising tax rates, because countywide property values have fallen about 15% in a year.
Without raising rates, tax bills also would average 15% less — but hundreds of thousands will pay above 15% more, not less, if the county doesn’t reverse course.
And though County Manager George Burgess proposed the 5% water and wastewater hikes, that’s not because water and sewer are running in the red. They’re already quite profitable.
But by raising rates, the county can dip into water and sewer cash and add $25 million to its operating spending cache while claiming it’s keeping our cost down. And for that $25 million slice the county would be right — unless you happen to drink water or flush a toilet.
"If you keep taking money it just goes to reason you’re going to be charging more so all the residents are paying more," Commissioner Carlos Gimenez told us. "It’s actually a hidden tax. You’re just hiding it in water and sewer."
Who knows what other hidden tax money will flow down the drain unless in a final hearing next month seven commissioners find the guts to say no to all the tax and fee hikes as unemployment keeps rising.
One Miami-Dade worker in eight can’t get a job and commissioners don’t seem to notice. Instead, as the economy strangles the public and values of homes fall, the county plans double-digit tax hikes on every dollar of remaining value.
Before the commission finally clamps the screws on taxpayers or, as it should, relieves pressure by backing off its massive increases, it will hold budget hearings at 5 p.m. Sept. 13 and 23.
At those hearings, incredibly, most testifying and in the audience will not admonish the county to live within its means but will favor every penny of taxes, saying every service is vital and must be retained or the community will crumble.
The Human Services Coalition is seeking 10,000 signatures on petitions saying 25% funding cuts for community groups and 1,200 county job cuts would be catastrophic. It’s a legitimate position — wrong in today’s world, but legitimate. Other groups with interests involved will do the same.
Commissioners, after all, can count hundreds of loud people in a room much more easily than hundreds of thousands of silently suffering taxpayers who didn’t show up.
The fact is that most residents aren’t taxpayers at all. It’s far easier to call for higher taxes for services when someone else pays.
This week about 1 million tax notices went out countywide. Those notices are called TRIM notices, not because they reveal how much government plans to trim you but because they tell the TRuth In Millage — how much you’ll pay unless government steps back from outrageous plans.
While the notice will be true as far as it goes, remember that it doesn’t note the $25 million we’d pay extra for water and sewer or other new burdens the county will try to slip onto our backs.
Remember too that even if you’re among the lucky few whose TRIM notices say you’d pay a bit less than last year, it’s because the value of what you own has plummeted. You’d be paying far, far less, not just a few dollars, if government wasn’t raising your tax rates by double digits.
What can we do?
One suggestion: Let your commissioner know you’ll be taking names of those who vote to raise tax rates even a penny in today’s economy. Remind them that the purpose of government is not to remain bloated.
Another suggestion: Wear a red "Cut Tax Rate" T-shirt to the hearings. Have your friends do the same.
Remember, commissioners only count the hundreds of votes in the room, not the hundreds of thousands of suffering taxpayers back home fighting foreclosure.