The Dade County Commission passed final approval of its proposed 2018 millage rate at a special called meeting on Thursday, with only one dissenting vote.
“It was just a campaign promise,” District 1 Commissioner Mitchell Smith said of his no vote, explaining he had vowed never to raise county taxes and his conscience now dictated that he vote against the proposed 14.573 rate.
Technically, the commission is not raising but lowering the millage rate this year, down from 14.860, but because of growth in the tax digest, the lower rate is expected to generate slightly more property tax revenue over fiscal 2017. However minimal the uptick, it was enough to trigger not just Smith’s conscience pang but a legal requirement to advertise the increase publicly. That notice in turn was enough to bring five or six citizens to the public hearing--the last of three required by law--that immediately preceded the July 27 meeting.
Dade County Commission Executive Chairman Ted Rumley explained, as he had at the two previous hearings last week, that the 4 percent tax increase named in the public notice was misleading, that the expected increase of tax collections came from the commission “accepting the growth” in tax digest values as opposed to lowering the millage rate further. “I’d rather be moving this way than in the other direction,” said Rumley. He brought up the county’s projection of an average increase of $3.72 on a $100,000 home, and stressed that many properties had not gone up in value at all and some had actually come down.
Rumley and the other commissioners also took the occasion to point out to taxpayers that the county portion of their tax bill--which pays for roads, law enforcement, courts, emergency services, ambulances, the public library, recreation, et cetera--is eclipsed by the school tax part. “The school board is the real high roller,” said Rumley. “They’re the heavy hitter in this. But when they have a hearing there won’t be two people.”
District 3’s Robert Goff also emphasized the uneven split. “For every dollar we get, they get two,” said Goff.
The Dade Board of Education sets its own millage rate--“They’re their own government,” said Rumley--and this year has opted, like the county, to keep its millage rate the same as last year (15.509) but to “accept the growth” and collect slightly more in taxes.
Most years, the school board and county commission approve their millage rates on the same evening. But this year, the BOE was late advertising its own increase--and announcing its own public hearings--and won’t be ready to vote on the rate until Aug. 10.
Hearings for the school tax increase are at the BOE office in front of the high school on Highway 136 at noon and 6 p.m. on Aug. 3 and at 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 10, with a special called meeting to adopt the rate following at 6 p.m.
But back to the final county tax hearing: Rumley also used the occasion to remind taxpayers of the appeals process. They can protest any change in their property values by filling out a simple form, he said, and can then pursue the matter through the Board of Equalization and up to Dade Superior Court. The deadline is up for this year--taxpayers have 45 days after notices are sent out.
What about the “view tax?” one man asked. Can the county really impose a tax on a vista? None of the commissioners had heard of such a thing. “Have you seen it on a tax bill?” asked Rumley. No, said the man. Rumley said property was certainly more valuable if it was on the bluff, and promised to follow up with the tax assessor’s office on the existence, or non-, of a view tax.
The commissioners also discussed tax exemptions--homestead, veterans’, and the controversial 65/5 exemption. This last one, passed in 2005, allows residents 65 and over to avoid the school tax entirely on their homes and up to five acres around them, no matter how high the value. “A younger person is actually penalized for living here,” said one opiner, but District 2 Commissioner Scottie Pittman pointed out how popular the exemption was when it was voted in. Anyway, said Pittman: “People who are eligible for an exemption should take it.”
Pittman also had another piece of advice for lowering incidental annual bills associated with home ownership. Residents should call their insurance companies and let them know how much the local volunteer fire departments have lowered their ISO ratings. These are insurance-industry statistics that figure enormously in how much homeowners pay in insurance premiums, and last year’s vast ISO improvements by all of Dade’s fire departments can easily save a homeowner a couple of hundred dollars. But insurance companies don’t know it unless they’re told, so pick up the phone, said Pittman.
”That’s something everybody should do,” he said.