Feeling pressure to limit the size of an inflation-fueled property tax increase, the Key Biscayne Village Council postponed a $15 million dollar expansion of the island’s crowded community center Tuesday and made $250,000 in reductions to the 2023 spending plan.
Manager Steve Williamson had proposed continuing planning and design for the project, as part of a revised $37.2 million budget. His spending plan would have increased taxes 10.2%, but council members spent much of the first budget hearing looking to bring the tax rate down.
Hammered by record inflation, most Miami-Dade municipalities are increasing taxes, a burden that falls mostly on people who rent their homes, landlords, and other commercial property owners. That’s because residents who have Homestead exemptions have increases capped at 3%. In Key Biscayne, only 37% of residential properties get the Homestead exemption, according to the property appraiser’s office.
The expansion of the community center has been planned since 2018, as the facility is now seen as overcrowded and inadequate to keep pace with the island’s growing population. Concept drawings produced in 2019 depict a 77% increase in interior space and an additional pool.
But on Tuesday, council members deleted $150,000 in planning and design funds for the project, worried that village planners would be overtaxed at a time when officials are focusing on stormwater, coastal protection, and utility undergrounding projects.
“You guys have so much going on. I don’t think you’re going to get to this one this year,” said Mayor Mike Davey.
Williamson said while the staff was ready to proceed if the council approved funding, delaying the project would allow for more time to map out funding options, which have not been addressed.
“Our residents have told us our Community Center needs some work,” he said. “To do this right, it’s a three to four year process.”
The remainder of Williamson’s budget remained intact, but Council Members Ed London, Ignacio Segurola, and Luis Lauredo said they’d be looking for additional reductions at the final budget hearing Sept. 21.
The votes on the budget and tax rates were 5-2, with Segurola and London dissenting. The millage rate of 3.160 is actually down slightly from the current 3.199, but because property values have soared, taxes are going up an average of 8.7%.
There were no specific suggestions on cuts, but the council left open the idea of reducing the village’s approximately $10 million in reserves, in part because of a current $1 million surplus due to an influx of federal pandemic dollars.
Council Member Allison McCormick questioned that idea, saying bond rating agencies take note of whether a municipality has a robust reserve capacity. Chief Financial Officer Benjamin Nussbaum agreed, but said using the surplus is a policy question for the council.
Williamson said with a $37 million budget, a $10 million reserve is on the low side.
“You know, if you held a bank account of 1/3 of what you made each year, you know, we are moving into significant investments,” he said. “I would say it’s actually kind of low for the size of budget that we run.”
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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.