Are we interested in seeing services to the community increased — or at least restored to their previous highs — or lower the millage and keep a few more dollars in our pockets? That is the question facing our elected officials.
Renters, who think they are not involved, should be aware that increased taxes eventually show up in higher rents.
Another way to ask the question is: Would more people vote to retain our mayor and those commissioners up for reelection if they cut the millage and put a few more dollars in property owners’ pockets?
With property values up an average of 7 percent over last year and the maintenance of the 9.76 millage rate, we still would experience a small increase in real estate taxes. The other choice, lower the millage with a higher property value and see real estate tax dollars stay the same.
A month ago Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez suggested a reduction in the millage and holding county services and payroll to their current levels hoping that voters would be content and vote for his reelection. Then the hue and cry went up by nonunion county employees who have experienced layoffs and pay cuts. Complaints came as well from fire rescue and police union members who also face cuts in numbers and their inability to properly serve the public.
County commissioners, by vote, made sure that there wouldn’t be a millage increase but left the door open for a possible decrease — an ever-appealing position when looking for voter support. Right now it looks like the county budget will come in around $7 billion — a sum larger than a number of states in America.
Let’s take a look at specifics in the proposed budget:
Prisons:Add 200 positions to Corrections to meet the federal government crackdown on our prison system.
Libraries: Would receive more money permitting 10 locations to open six days a week as well as additional funds to buy books and provide electronic services. Libraries scheduled for a six-day week, as of this writing, are: California Club, Coral Reef, Country Walk, Golden Glades, Hispanic, Homestead, International Mall, Kendall, Little River and Pinecrest.
Parks and right of ways: Grass cutting and public park maintenance would receive more money to make them more appealing to the public.
It is hard to play with the kids in grass as high as an adult’s knees.
Fire: Add 36 positions to operate two county fireboats. Gimenez tried to work a deal with the City of Miami and Miami Beach fire departments to join forces but failed to meet municipal approval.
Police: Permit new hiring to fill, in part, the current vacancies in staffing.
Nonunion payroll: The county cut salaries for nonunion employees which would be restored under the proposed budget.
Emergency reserves: Add $5 million to the reserve fund — the first in five years.
Public transit budget: A 3.5 percent increase in funds to subsidize public transportation providing, in part, 92 new positions.
Over all number of county employees: The county currently employs 25,400 individuals. The increases proposed will add 745 to the current staff.
Vizcaya Museum: The mayor proposes privatizing the museum, which would reduce the employment numbers by 70. I assume (bad choice of words) that the county also would lose the revenues generated by Vizcaya. I guess this proves the old theory that private industry can operate more efficiently (make more money) than government. Otherwise why privatize?
We have just completed a series of public meetings around the county where county officials sought the opinions of and answer the questions of the public.
Members of public will have another opportunity to speak to the county commission and let their thoughts be known in September as commissioners present the proposed budget to the public where they will approve the budget for 2016. Sept. 30 is the deadline for budget approval.
Watch this closely; this is our money the mayor and commissioners are spending. You can always write, text, email or call your commissioner with your opinions.
We appreciate your opinions on this column whether in agreement or disagreement. Send your comments to (fax number) 305-662-6980 or email to Kenneth.Bluh@ColumbusCL.com. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of this newspaper, its editors or publisher.