shirley_gibson_1__web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

Miami Gardens home owners won a partial victory from the City Council which agreed at its final budget meeting Sept. 22  to lower a proposed property tax hike from $6.27 for every $1,000 of a house’s taxable value to $5.71.

The rate will increase from the current $5.37, which means that the owner of a house whose taxable value is $100,000 will pay $571 a year instead of the current $537.

City Manager Danny Crew and his staff originally proposed the $6.27 rate at a budget hearing on Sept. 8. That would have meant an annual tax of $627 on a house with a taxable value of $100,000.

During the final budget meeting Sept. 22, that proposed rate was reduced to $5.79 but the council set the lower rate of $5.71 after eliminating the cost of living allowance from the budget.
For an employee paid $37,000 a year, the cost of living allowance would have been $740.

Crew had wanted to reduce the cost of living allowance to two percent for six months.

The new budget also suspends merit pay for one year for all city employees and retains a freeze on three police positions.

Crew made it clear that the new budget required steep reductions in city spending.

“These are difficult cuts,” Crew said. “They go to the heart of the city and the heart of what we do and it especially goes to the heart of an exceptional workforce.”

It was standing-room-only in the City Council Chambers as residents gathered to make last-minute pleas for changes to the proposed budget.

Residents expressed concern over what they regarded as big salaries for senior personnel and some called a five or 10 percent pay cut for all employees, depending on their pay rate. They asked for assurances that senior citizens activities wouldn’t be cut.

“Today’s senior citizens are not bound for the senior homes like the seniors of yesteryear,” said Zuri White. “We are active in the community.”

Sporty Young, president of the Crestview/Rolling Oak Buccaneers, expressed concern over having to pay more for senior services, such as meeting in the Miami Gardens Community Center. The council responded by agreeing to hold the senior fees at $5 per month for meetings and workshops throughout the year.

Some residents also questioned the way the budget was presented, saying it wasn’t itemized enough.

“There’s no transparency in the budget,” said Denise White. “We should be able to see line by line what we are paying for. There is a lot of fat in this budget.”

Councilman Andre Williams questioned the inclusion in the budget of the annual Jazz in the Gardens concert which has drawn celebrities such as Mary J. Blige, India.Arie and John Legend. The event costs as much as $2 million but last year’s edition turned a $120,000 profit for the city.

“I will not support a budget that includes $2 million for Jazz in the Gardens,” Williams said. “I propose we eliminate Jazz in the Gardens for a year.”

Mayor Shirley Gibson, who spearheaded the push for Jazz in the Gardens five years ago, defended the festival.

“We need to have a cultural positive event,” Gibson said. “You have to invest in the city and then it grows and now we have a premiere event.”

Jazz in the Gardens gives the city credibility and encourages investment by businesses and companies who would see Miami Gardens in a different light, she said.

The motions to approve the tax rate and the overall budget each passed 4-3 with Vice Mayor Aaron Campbell, Councilman Andre Williams and Councilwoman Sharon Pritchett voting against each motion.

They all objected to the tax hike, saying it would cause hardship for residents. They wanted even deeper cuts in the budget.