In the wee hours of the morning, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners approved a record $10 billion budget that raises taxes but also develops new programs to help residents with soaring housing costs — but not before Commissioner Raquel Reglado tangled with Mayor Daniella Levine Cava on an additional benefit for senior citizens.
Locally, the spending plan also includes at least $64 million in projects related to Key Biscayne, including the first tranche of funding for a new library as well as Rickenbacker Causeway and Crandon Park projects.
In a significant shift, the budget transfers Causeway operations from the Parks and Recreation Department to the county’s Department of Transportation.
Much of the meeting was spent debating the controversial “Ambassadors” program that would have granted a $25,000 salary to some outgoing county commissioners for ceremonial work, first reported by the Miami Herald. In the end, the program was killed, but a separate move to increase commissioner’s compensation from $60,000 to $138,000 passed 7-5. Most of that increase is to boost a retirement contribution that commissioners said had been frozen for two decades. Regalado voted no on that measure.
The exchanges were snarky at times, and a harbinger of a potential mayoral challenge from Regalado in the future. Regalado, who represents Key Biscayne, has made no secret of being interested in repeating a run for county mayor.
County property taxes are increasing 3% for owners who get the Homestead exemption, but they are rising 8.9% for everyone else, including commercial properties and for landlords who can pass costs to tenants.
Regalado and Commissioner Rene Garcia, the county GOP chair, proposed cutting the property tax rate. Garcia’s plan would have found offsets in the solid waste budget and federal pandemic dollars, which the administration argued was unsound fiscal policy.
After Garcia’s motion was defeated, Regalado offered a 2% millage cut, but did not identify any specific items for her $16.8 million tax reduction, saying that task should fall to Levine Cava.
“Literally, that’s her job,” she said. “Ideologically, I still believe that the right thing to do is give the money back.”
“A steeper millage cut would primarily go to benefit investors and speculators who’ve been driving up our housing costs,” Levine Cava contended. The housing initiatives in her budget would use $500 million in local, state, and federal funds.
After the twin tax cut motions failed, Regalado then proposed doubling a tax rebate from $100 to $200 for each of about 37,000 low income seniors, to be paid by reducing a workforce housing program. “I don’t think we have an issue with workforce housing,” Regalado said, adding that there are many new workforce housing developments in progress.
Commissioner Kionne McGhee said Regalado’s idea would “pit first responders in the workforce against our seniors.” Regalado responded testily that McGhee, a former House minority leader, was engaging in “Tallahassee math” and said the administration had not provided analytical data for the workforce programs.
As the midnight oil burned, Regalado continued to criticize the mayor’s housing programs that carry acronyms like HOMES and WHIP for the workforce housing incentives.
“God bless her media training, you know, but this thing is starting to sound like alphabet soup,” Regalado said.
Vice Chair Oliver Gilbert rebuked Regalado. “What we cannot do is combat each other politically like that,” he said. “I regularly get thank you letters from our seniors,” Levine Cava said.
In the end, Levine Cava said Regalado’s one-time doubling of the senior credit could be paid for from a budget shift in a mortgage relief program, and the amendment was approved. About 45 Key Biscayne residents would be eligible for the $200 rebate check, according to data from the Property Appraiser’s office.
The final budget passed 11-1, with Garcia the lone no vote.
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.