At least $64 million will be set aside for some of Key Biscayne’s pressing priorities in the new budget unveiled by Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava late last week. But the plan is drawing criticism from Key Biscayne’s own commissioner, who says it doesn’t do enough to hold the line on taxes.
The $10.3 billion proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, which spans three volumes and is 984 pages long, is headed to the Board of County Commissioners.
The budget calls for $12.4 million to be spent on the Rickenbacker Causeway, including $6 million of shoreline work on Hobie Island, $1.6 million for removing and Causeway toll booths, $500,000 in cyclist safety improvements, and $1 million for a required study to replace the Bear Cut Bridge.
Village Manager Steve Williamson said funding for the Rickenbacker and Bear Cut are most important, expressing hope it will set the stage for getting state and federal funds for design and construction. Key Biscayne is working on its goals for the causeway. Concept drawings are expected later this year. The Bear Cut replacement is estimated at $90 million.
The mayor’s proposed budget would increase property taxes significantly for some owners, but residents who qualify for Florida’s Homestead Exemption would only see a 3% increase. Those who don’t qualify, including commercial owners, would see an increase of about 10%.
Key Biscayners save money by partially avoiding the separate Fire Rescue tax, but they are still footing more of the bill as a ‘donor community.” Key Biscayne has just 0.5% of the county’s population, but accounts for 2.4% of the tax roll, the budget states.
Levine Cava tried to portray her budget as bringing some measure of tax relief, because it reduced the property tax rate, or “millage,” by 1% from last year. But with higher property values being added into the mix, the reduction is more than offset by the soaring increases in property values.
Indeed, the “rollback rate,” the rate that would mathematically keep the tax amount the same as the current levy, would be nearly 8.5% lower than what Levine Cava is proposing.
The mayor brushed aside the concern, saying the higher rates would affect those who have reaped big profits.
“Most of the increase is really from investors, hedge funds, speculators: people who are buying up individual homes and flipping them for huge profit. And those are the people who would be benefiting from a larger budget cut,” Levine Cava said.
But District 7 Commissioner Raquel Regalado, who represents Key Biscayne, said the proposed tax increase is too steep.
“I don’t think the County Commission is going to accept it,” she said. “We are going into a recession.” She said some of Levine Cava’s spending priorities were “getting more and more expensive every year,” calling legal aid and some programs for tenants expensive extras.
“We don’t need to get into that business,” Regalado said.
In other areas of the budget of interest to Key Biscayne, the plan allocates $1.3 million for replacement of the island’s county library branch, $5 million for new lifeguard buildings at Crandon Park and $35 million to improve emergency service response times for calls on Biscayne Bay.
Williamson, the village manager, said officials are hoping to hear details of other expenditures that were not broken down specifically, such as the $62 million dollar county-wide traffic signal project that includes Key Biscayne and water and sewer projects.
The budget also calls for $5.4 million for “Vision Zero” projects to reduce pedestrian and cycling injuries. The village is planning to implement safety changes at the intersection of Crandon and Harbor Drive.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.