Homestead City Council voted preliminary approval of the City’s new budget at its Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday September 10.
A second and final public budget hearing will be held on September 25 at 5 pm in conjunction with City Council’s regular monthly meeting.
Homestead’s operating millage rate remains unchanged at 5.9215 mills as it has for many years. Millage rate is the amount of tax charged per $1,000 value of appraised real property, including the land and any buildings.
Homestead’s total taxable property values are computed at $3.1 billion this year. That assessment raises $15,926,889 in tax monies for the City, an increase of 9.6% from last year. It also raises $1,757,814 for the Community Redevelopment Agency. Council approved a debt millage of 0.4800 providing an additional $1,433,532 in revenue for debt service.
The total General Fund 2019-2020 is proposed at $50.4 million as a balanced budget.
Ad valorem property taxes are 31.6% of the budget’s revenue.
Homestead’s total new budget is set at $194,534,204 - including the General Fund, the City’s utility funds (about $102.9 million), and $41.1 million for other funds such as the CRA and the People’s Transportation Plan.
Impact fees are projected to increase to $11.5 million or 5.9% of the budget contrasted with last year’s $4.7 million or 2.6% of the old budget.
City Manager George Gretsas gave a remarkable presentation on the history of Homestead’s budgets throughout the great recession to counter “floating misinformation”.
“Homestead’s budget philosophy was no millage rate increase, no reduction in City services, no layoffs, no tax
increases and no use of reserves,” said Gretsas. “We chose to slowly grow our way out of the problem of the recession. That discipline is paying off now.”
Gretsas said the City’s bond rating has improved to upper medium grade because of that fiscal responsibility. One example is the City’s staffing count that goes from 479 to 481 with the new budget despite a significant growth in the City’s population.
The City Manager reviewed Homestead’s revitalization plan that grows property values while improving the downtown.
Homestead Station is set to open October 26 providing entertainment, restaurants, retail shopping and downtown parking. The City’s plan for a Cybrarium (the Cybrary name was lost to someone else) will add a virtual reality destination for students and visitors. Losner Park is being expanded, adding interactive fountains, a playground, an outdoor stage, and a restaurant. Miami-Dade College is building a $36 million student center as a
campus entrance feature across from City Hall because the City gifted the land for the project.
Gretsas praised the police department that is funded at 54% of the General Fund monies. New crime statistics show a 30% reduction in crime to the lowest rate in many years despite a larger population.
Councilmember Jon Burgess raised the issue of an increase in the millage rate to fund more staff and plan for the future Homestead. Councilmember Patricia Fairclough said, “If there’s an appetite to raise taxes, we have to do that over time. Initiating those tax conversations now is premature.”
“If you were to raise the millage rate to 6.1, it would only raise a small amount, about $400,000,” said Councilmember Larry Roth. “Where does the rest of the money come from? We’re blessed that our property values keep going up.”
“This year, I’ve had to bridle my tongue as things were said as if we didn’t know what we were doing,” added Councilmember Fairclough. “I’m glad you debunked all that Mr. Manager. We make decisions that may be unpopular but are in the best interests of the entire community.”
On the issue of the City’s millage rate, Burgess was the only No vote. A first vote on the proposed City budget passed unanimously.
The Community Redevelopment Agency recommended adoption of its balanced $3,711,604 budget for the new fiscal year. Housing rehab, commercial enhancement programs, and community nonprofit projects were continued as was a public safety plan that adds one police officer and a Code compliance officer. The Cybrary (“Cybrarium”) got $500,000.
Councilmember Jon Burgess said he would like to see the police officer and code compliance funding moved to the General Fund rather than stay in the CRA budget. Mayor Stephen Shelley concurred.
“The CRA sunsets in four years,” said Mayor Shelley. “We must discover the best use of the funds for programs that make a lasting impact – consider one big project or split the money among many programs?”
The CRA budget included land acquisition in the southwest neighborhood for the next planned development project at SW 4th Street and Railroad Avenue.
The agency’s budget was adopted unanimously by Council.
At the COW meeting, Council approved liability and workers compensation insurance packages, including an increase to its cyber liability coverage. A $30,000 grant to Losner Park and an Attorney General’s victim advocate grant of $156,945 were accepted.
Council approved a fee retainer agreement with a consortium of law firms representing municipal plaintiffs in litigation against big pharmaceutical companies over the opioid crisis. The class action suit is being heard in federal court in Ohio. The City’s statistics on drug related deaths could determine its share of any award.
Council held a short discussion on revisions to Homestead’s design standards and guidelines for architectural aesthetics for new buildings, particularly along the City’s major corridors. Staff prepared a review of commercial and residential rules subject to revisions so the City could exert better control over a developer’s final product. Miami-Dade County’s Urban Design Standards are
referenced but not adopted in Homestead’s rules yet have had an impact on final building designs.
The sense of Council was to continue the conversation on more specific architectural and design requirements, setting minimum standards, and
encouraging developers to talk to all Council members about proposed construction. Mayor Shelley agreed that the focus should first be on new commercial rules for building design.