Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Broward property tax rate remains steady overall for 2011-12

Sun Sentinel

The spending will be less, the employees fewer, the property-tax revenue lower.

Broward County commissioners gave final approval Tuesday night to a $3.2 billion total budget, including $2.3 billion in spending on general services, for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which will begin Saturday.

Supporting that spending will be a tax rate for general services that goes up for the second year in a row, to $5.122 per $1,000 of taxable assessed property value. That’s compared to last year’s $5.10, and the previous year’s $4.89.

That doesn’t give the full picture, though. The tax that pays off county debt will drop in the coming budget year, so the total tax the county charges will be the same as last year’s, at $5.55 per $1,000 of taxable value. In addition, because of declining property values, the county will collect $20 million less in property taxes.

For property owners, the flat rate means anyone whose taxable property value went up this year will pay more to the county. Broward officials estimate that for the owner of a $116,000 home with longtime homestead protection, the increase will be $12.

Additional property taxes are levied by cities, the Broward School Board, hospital district and other taxing agencies.

But two enormous budget liabilities went unresolved after several hours of debate Tuesday.

• The county’s standoff with the city of Fort Lauderdale over $6 million in emergency dispatch services that the Broward Sheriff’s Office says it no longer will provide without payment. Neither BSO nor the city budgeted for it. This issue will return next week at a county-city workshop meeting.

• The ongoing budget disaster in Lauderdale Lakes. The city owes BSO $9 million, and Broward commissioners debated for more than four hours what to do about it. The county will front $1.1 million toward that debt, but demanded that Lauderdale Lakes tell the state by Friday that it is in a state of financial emergency and ask the state to appoint an oversight board to manage the city’s financial affairs.

Commissioners talked about forcing the city into bankruptcy, having the city be dissolved, and other drastic measures. This issue will come back to the County Commission on Oct. 11.

“They’re done. They’re history,” said Commissioner John Rodstrom, among those expressing doubt that Lauderdale Lakes could survive.

No local Broward government has gone unscathed in the recession and real estate bust. The county’s tax collections are $257 million less than five years ago. During that time, the number of county employees dropped from 6,509 to 5,469 in the new budget year.

On guard against cuts Tuesday were library fans, an enduring group who appear at budget hearings regardless of whether cuts are planned.

Mae Silver summed up why: “We want to let you know we’re watching. And we want to let you know we are not pleased when there are cuts, for our baby.”

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