By: Ettore Sabatella
If you had the chance to attend the latest council meeting at Doral I’m sure you were not the only one thinking, what in the world is going on? How many times do they have to read the items into the record? The City Clerk’s face said it all. I’m sure by now she knows the resolution regarding the millage rate and the ordinance about the budget by heart. In case you missed it, the millage was approved at 1.9280 per $1,000.00 of assessed property value within the City of Doral to balance the budget.
I don’t even want to learn the meaning behind the back and forth during the budget hearing: table this, table that, bring it back to the floor, open the item again for discussion, close it, vote again, table it again, open for public hearing, close it. If you understood the process, please send me an email. I lost count of how many times they went back and forth. It was the most convoluted way of conducting city business that I’ve ever witnessed.
What bothered me most, however, was the nonchalant way of deciding what to do with our hard earned tax-payers money. A lot has been said and criticized about the decision to use over $2 million dollars for the Miss Universe pageant which at the time of this writing we don’t even know if it’s going to take place in Doral. The city administration explained to the council and the public that there were many benefits for bringing the pageant to the city only by calculating the economic impact that would come about by those people belonging to the advance team that supposedly is staying at Doral prior to the show.
In other words, a month of hotel rooms, eating at restaurants, renting cars, etc. etc. by people belonging to the Miss Universe Corporation (read that as Trump Corp.) can make a positive economic impact in the city. But that’s only half true. The income revenue for sales tax the city receives is not based on the amount of dollars sold within Doral. In fairness with the administration, the current Director of Finance, Ms. Elisa Razzi, did clarify the myth after a question by Councilwoman Cristi Fraga. They both deserve kudos for transparency.
The reality is that the sales tax that comes back to the city’s coffers is calculated by a State of Florida formula which spreads the tax revenue based on population number, not on how much money was sold in a given year. A quick visit to the Florida’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research webpage explains it really well.
The promise by the Council is that all that money allocated to the Miss Universe pageant is being recuperated via sponsors. So, why don’t ask them directly in the first place without using our money as collateral? If you want to ask the people that represent you and voted yes, you are welcome to contact them directly. Councilwomen Fraga and Rodriguez-Aquilera voted no, so don’t bother them.
According to the city, these are the key services, programs, and initiatives addressed in the approved budget:
- New Facilities: Public Works, Police, and 2 Parks
- Park Improvements
- Purchase of New Vehicles and Equipment
- Upgrade Technology Needs
- Police Department Safety Equipment
- Land Purchases
- Maintenance and Repair of Facilities and Equipment
- Enhancement of Communication Services through Various Media
- Proposed 3% Merit Increase Upon Annual Performance Evaluation
- City Incurring New Health Insurance Costs
- Enhanced Training for Employees
- Salary Adjustments/Reclassifications
- Increase in Staff Stipend/Per Diem Amount
- Increase in Council’s Stipend Amount
- Creation of New Office of Charter Enforcement
- Increase/Enhancement of Events
- Participation in New Local and State Conferences
And how much is the operating budget? $55,213,079
But let’s address another issue. Mayor Luigi Boria insisted that there will not be an increase in taxes. Again, he needs to give better information when addressing the public. Could be the language barrier and I cannot judge him for that. I have my own language barrier too. But the property taxes will go up and this is why. Although the millage rate remained the same as last year, that does not mean the tax will remain the same. The fact is that the homes in Doral have increased in value since 2013 meaning that for most people the property tax will increase. You have to look at both sides of the equation.
There was a failed attempt to decrease the millage rate to 1.90 proposed by Councilwoman Rodriguez-Aguilera towards the end of the meeting, but it went nowhere. The City attorney almost panicked since they just voted on a budget proposal based on the 1.9280 rate. Why did he panic? Very simple. The rate is used to balance the budget. And by law they needed a balanced budget by October 1st, when the news fiscal year starts. In other words, they either had to prolong the meeting until maybe 3am to recalculate the numbers, or only have seven days to adjust everything, call for a new meeting and approve it. Not an easy task.
Razzi also clarified that the city does not receive resort tax moneys. I’m no expert but Doral should be crying wolf and demanding to receive the tax revenue it deserves. There is no excuse anymore. The city has been around for a while.
This is the reality. As of today, the city of Coral Gables is not allocating resources toward the pageant nor is Miami Beach. I have a feeling that Trump is smarter than the Council and the administration but it is also our fault. If we were against the $2.5 million dollars, we should have put pressure and call our representatives. If the item was placed in front of the council at the last minute -which already tells you there is something fishy about it- that chamber should have been packed with people the day of the budget hearing. The truth is there were maybe “cuatro gatos”, the usual people. I guess the majority will wait for Election Day to express their opinion while crossing their fingers in the hope that sponsors will help getting our money back.