Friday, July 15, 2011

Fixed mortgage rates fall toward 2011 lows

WASHINGTON – July 15, 2011 – Fixed mortgage rates fell this week, and the rate on the 15-year loan dropped to its lowest point of the year.

The average rate on the 30-year loan decreased to 4.51 percent from 4.60 percent a week ago, Freddie Mac said Thursday. It reached its yearly low a month ago, at 4.49 percent.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage, popular for refinancing, fell to 3.65 percent from 3.75 percent. Its previous low this year was 3.67 percent, reached three weeks ago.

Rates typically track the yield on the 10-year Treasury note. Yields fell sharply last week after dismal jobs data pushed investors into the safety of government bonds. Yields fall as prices rise.

Low mortgage rates and depressed home values have done little to revive the struggling housing market. Many people can’t take advantage of the low rates because of tighter lending standards and higher downpayment requirements. Lenders are cautious because the weak economy and high unemployment make it more likely that some borrowers will default.

Other potential homebuyers are holding off, concerned that housing prices will continue to fall.

Few economists expect the housing market to rebound before 2013.

To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac collects rates from lenders across the country on Monday through Wednesday of each week. Rates often fluctuate significantly, even within a single day.

The average rate on a five-year adjustable-rate mortgage edged down to 3.29 percent from 3.30 percent last week. Two weeks ago, it hit 3.25 percent, its lowest level on records dating back to 2005. The average rate on the one-year adjustable loan fell to 2.95 percent, a record low, from 3.01 percent.

The rates do not include extra fees known as points. One point is equal to 1 percent of the total loan amount.

The average fees for the 30-year loans were unchanged at 0.7, according to Freddie Mac’s survey. Average fees for the 15-year fixed loan and the five-year ARM were 0.6. The average fees for the one-year ARM fell to 0.5.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Broward County expected to keep tax rate the same

Broward County expected to keep tax rate the same

Broward’s budget recommendations, which will be submitted Friday, include keeping the tax rate the same, restoring library hours and avoiding furloughs for employees.

Unlike last year, Broward County residents won’t have to brace for cuts to services like park hours and bus routes, under a proposal by the county administrator.
On Friday, County Administrator Bertha Henry will submit her recommendations for the 2011-2012 budget year, but a preliminary report from her office indicates the county’s financial shape is faring better than it did last year.
Last year, facing an $80 million shortfall, commissioners voted to cut bus routes, reduce library hours and impose employee furloughs.
Despite a projected $20 million gap in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, bus, park and library services will remain largely untouched.
In fact, the county is proposing reopening six of its regional libraries on Sunday, and public employees may not have to face another five-day furlough.
“We’re doing a little bit better,” said County Commissioner Barbara Sharief, whose district includes Miramar, Pembroke Pines, Weston, Southwest Ranches and Hallandale Beach. “We’re still working with less, but we’ve been able to weather through some tough times this past year.”
To address the $20 million hole, Henry’s preliminary proposal includes nominal cuts across county departments — $126, 000 saved by converting full-time lifeguards into part-time positions, $62,000 slashed by eliminating 10 parks vehicles from the fleet and a combined $130,000 in savings by closing the live animal exhibit at Long Key Nature Center in Davie, reducing trash pick up at two parks and reducing the use of lake fountains.
Kayla Olsen, the county’s budget director, said the budget gap for the upcoming year is “significantly less” than last year because the county’s tax roll didn’t drop as much as it has over the past three years.
This year, property values dropped 1.6 percent in Broward County, and in an optimistic sign, some cities — including Pembroke Pines, Weston and Plantation — saw slight gains in their overall property values.
Under Henry’s proposal the county’s tax rate would remain at $5.55 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.
Whether a taxpayer will see an increase or decrease in their tax bill compared to last year depends on whether their property values have gone up or down.
While the County Commission must sign off on the budget before Oct. 1 — which marks the start of the next budget year — they’ve been mulling over the numbers and hashing out details during a series of summer budget workshops.
The public will have the opportunity to chime in on the budget, during two public hearings scheduled for Sept. 13 and 27.

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Miami-Dade mayor: Cut property tax rates, pare services

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez unveiled a proposed budget that calls for cutting 1,300 positions and shuttering 13 public libraries, but maintaining senior and kids services.

Miami-Dade County’s new mayor proposed Wednesday eliminating nearly 1,300 county jobs, squeezing concessions from county workers and paring back services, including closing 13 public libraries and mothballing two county fireboats.
Unveiling his proposed budget for the new fiscal year, Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who campaigned on a promise to cut taxes and rein in a bloated government, laid out a plan that would cut the county’s overall property-tax rate by 11.8 percent.
The move — which would lower county tax bills this year for virtually all property owners — would reverse the wildly unpopular rate hike that was pushed through last year by his predecessor, Carlos Alvarez, provoking the largest recall of a local elected official in U.S. history.
In coming weeks, it will become clear whether residents, who have been clamoring for lower taxes, and county commissioners, who are sensitive to county unions and other key constituencies and who will ultimately set the tax rate and the budget, have the stomach for the service cuts that go hand-in-hand with a smaller budget.
On Thursday, the mayor plans to make his case by holding a “town hall’’ session with constituents on Facebook at 7 p.m. at
Under Gimenez’s proposal, county employees would shoulder a heavy part of the burden, kicking in a total of $238.8 million in concessions.
With Miami-Dade’s current labor agreements set to expire Sept. 30, Gimenez is pressing unions to embrace substantial concessions, including increasing employees’ contribution to health care insurance to 10 percent of their salaries from the current 5 percent. He already announced that he’s imposing that extra cost on the county’s non-union workers. The move comes even as county employees have been hit with a new requirement to kick in 3 percent of their salaries toward the Florida Retirement System, a burden previously funded fully by the county.
The mayor also wants employees to give back raises that range from 3 percent for most worker groups to 13 percent for police, and he’s seeking to eliminate a variety of benefits, such as merit raises.
John Rivera, president of the Dade Police Benevolent Association, which represents county police officers, said he hasn’t received any formal notice of the mayor’s proposals. His reaction Wednesday evening was muted: “We are committed to sitting down with the current administration and seeing where we can agree,’’ said the usually feisty union boss. “We have scheduled meetings, and we’re going to try to work through where we can work through. If we can’t work through, there is a process that we hope he’ll respect.’’
The mayor’s proposed budget also calls for cutting county positions to 26,361 from 27,647, a reduction of 1,292. While 511 of those positions are currently vacant, the mayor’s budget envisions about 781 actual layoffs.
County commissioners are set to meet Tuesday to set a preliminary tax rate. The commission will then hold two public hearings, on Sept. 8 and Sept. 22, to set the actual tax rate and settle on the new budget.
“For too long now, the residents that we serve have been making financial sacrifices, adjusting their lifestyles and tightening belts within their own households in order to survive this economic storm,’’ Mayor Gimenez told a wall of cameras and reporters at a late afternoon press conference Wednesday. “It’s time that we as a government do the same.’’
While Miami-Dade has been hit particularly hard by the housing and financial crises, the idea of combining government employee layoffs and concessions with service cuts to close a budget gap is a familiar theme that is playing out at municipal and state governments around the nation as they struggle with declining revenue. Indeed, cuts in government jobs are a major reason that the U.S. job market remains so bleak, as modest hiring in the private sector fails to compensate for the massive losses in government jobs.
The mayor’s plan calls for cutting his own office budget by 20 percent. Gimenez took office on July 1 announcing he had, on his own initiative, cut his $310,000 salary and benefits package in half and eliminating a controversial $600-a-month car allowance..
He is also asking county commissioners to cut their office budgets by 10 percent — a move that is sure to spur controversy among the 13 elected officials, who tap the money to dole out support to favorite causes. Particularly controversial: The mayor is seeking to eliminate a long-standing county practice that allows commissioners to roll over to future years any unspent funds in their office budgets.
Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, who represents District 3, which cuts through a host of neighborhoods from Liberty City and Overtown to the Upper East Side and North Miami, said she is just beginning to digest the mayor’s proposed budget after sitting down with him and couldn’t say yet whether she will embrace it.
“I really do plan to try to support the mayor as much as possible through the budget cycle and the coming year,’’ she said.
In total, the mayor’s proposed budget for next year is $6.16 billion, down 19 percent from the current year total of $7.6 billion. That reduction includes cutting construction spending 39.5 percent, to $1.67 billion, from $2.77 billion this year, as major county projects at Miami International Airport and other areas near completion.
Under the mayor’s plan, the county’s operating budget — which includes day-to-day expenses such as salaries and services as opposed to capital projects — would be cut 7.3 percent to $4.44 billion, from $4.79 billion this year.
Gimenez says that confronted with tough choices, he is focusing on preserving core services. That means, for example, the Miami-Dade fire department, whose tax rate isn’t getting cut as steeply as others, is being salvaged from deeper cuts it would have had to make. But the public library budget would be hit hard, with 13 libraries closing. He didn’t identify which branches he’s seeking to close.
While the cuts are widespread, the mayor is proposing to retain programs that serve senior citizens and children at current levels. In prepared remarks to county officials Tuesday, Gimenez advocated “protecting vital programs for our most vulnerable residents — the elderly and children.’’
The mayor said he plans to look to the community for alternative sources of funding for the libraries. Indeed, on Wednesday evening, Jorge Luis Lopez, a Miami attorney and County Hall lobbyist, who chairs the parks foundation, said he is spearheading an effort to raise funds to try to prevent closures of libraries.
“There are civic leaders and corporate interests that can rally behind a cause like this,’’ Lopez said.
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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Coral Gables may lower the city's tax rate. What does that mean

Below is an article from the Miami Herald.   This is good for the Citizens of Coral Gables but does it mean your taxes will be lower?  Well, that remains to be seen.  

The ultimate dollar amount you pay consists of two parts.  The tax rate and the "Millage rate."  The tax rate is released first, this portion you have the right to appeal with a Property Tax Appeal.  The Milliage you can not appeal.  

Millage is a term widely used by the Miami Dade tax collector. A "Mill," the route of the word, represents one thousandth of a dollar. "Millage Rates" refer to tax rates based on mills per dollar per the value of the property. Published millage rates always indicate the tax rate for the previous year and can be used to estimate future tax payments, but never to definitely predict them in the future. Tax rates can change significantly year over year depending on exemptions that have been removed or a change in the market value of the home.

The Millage allows the gap to be filled.  Think of it as an online auction.  Your tax rate is the sale price, your Millage rate is the shipping and handling.   The auction may have ended at $52.00 but you get your final bill of $69.00. 

The Millage is released AFTER your right to appeal your taxes expires.  Remember, you have to submit your appeal or you can not be heard. 

Keep in mind as well, you may feel your property is properly assessed but keep in mind the property 3 blocks away, that you feel would be worth more, could actually be 20% less.  Contact us to look at your property.  You have nothing to loose and a lot to gain. 

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Coral Gables leaders say the city’s upcoming budget is headed in the right direction. City services will be maintained while the city’s tax rate is poised to drop.

Coral Gables City Manager Patrick Salerno plans to deliver some good news next Wednesday, when he informs the City Commission about the city’s proposed $145 million budget.
He recommends dropping Coral Gables’ tax rate to $5.869 from $6.072 for every $1,000 of assessed property value. There won’t be any job cuts to the city’s full-time workforce of 791 employees.
And while the city’s tax base remained essentially flat at $11.8 billion in the past 12 months, according to the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser’s Office, Salerno has not proposed any controversial budget cuts this year.
Last September, he recommended cutting the tree-lighting ceremony at the North Pole Village across from City Hall.
 The popular Christmas park survived the budget axe after residents inundated commissioners with e-mails and calls opposing the change.
 The commission will hold two budget hearings — one on Sept. 13 and a second on Sept. 27 at City Hall — before they pass a new budget for the new fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
 This year, commissioners said they are satisfied with the way the city budget is shaping up.
“I’m very pleased he’s presenting a budget where we are lowering taxes and maintaining services,” said Vice Mayor William “Bill” Kerdyk Jr., who along with Commissioner Ralph Cabrera, voted against the budget and a 3 percent tax rate increase last September.
“While a lot of municipalities are raising their tax rate, the decrease is something our residents will be pleased with,” he added.
According to Salerno, “In discussions with members of the commission, they’ve asked me to strive to reduce the property-tax rate.”
Under the new tax rate, the owner of a home assessed at $560,000 — roughly the city average for an owner-occupied house — would see a tax cut of about $55, to $3,042. That assumes the owner qualifies for the standard $50,000 homestead exemption and that the house’s taxable value increased 1.5 percent from the previous year, the maximum amount allowed under the Save Our Homes amendment to the state Constitution.
Those figures only include city tax; the county, school district and other local agencies have additional levies.
People who bought their homes more recently could see a larger tax cut if their home’s market value dropped below their previous tax assessment. In that case, there would be no 1.5 percent increase, and the county appraiser should cut the assessed value to reflect market conditions. That would almost never be the case for longtime homeowners, because Save Our Homes has kept their taxable values artificially low.
Even though Coral Gables is expected to lose $2 million in property-tax revenue, Salerno said a combination of decisions over the past few years has helped the city administration avoid draconian cuts this time around.
“We amended the collective bargaining agreements and lowered pensions, we’ve reduced the number of positions and held the line on wages and reduced overtime,” the city manager said.
Since he became city manager in April 2009, Salerno said the administration has saved money by making changes such as switching from premium fuel to regular fuel for its fleet and conducting better oversight of its vehicles.
Still, there are some areas of concern in the budget. For example, the budget assumes the city will receive $1.9 million in rent and golf management fees from the Biltmore Hotel. But for the past two years, the city has not collected rent from the hotel, and both sides have been at odds over the issue, which remains unresolved.
A budget footnote says that if Coral Gables does not receive the $1.9 million in rent money in the coming budget year, it will have to find additional sources of revenue or have further reductions in personnel or operating costs.
Salerno said to make up that shortfall, the city would likely tap its reserves, which stand at $6.5 million right now.
The drop in the city’s reserves from $9.6 million to $4.5 million in 2009 was a factor last December, when Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Coral Gables’ credit rating a notch from an Aaa to an Aa1. At that time, Finance Director Don Nelson said the downgrade brings Coral Gables back to the rating it has had since July 2004. He said the lower credit rating would not affect the city’s ability to pay existing debt or borrow money in the future.
In other matters, Salerno said there will be a small increase in building permit fees to bring them more in line with the consumer price index. He declined to say the exact amount of the recommended increase.
And Coral Gables will hike its capital improvements budget to $8.4 million next year from $4 million currently. The bulk of the increase — $5.7 million – will go towards replacing sanitary sewer mains, lift stations and sewer pipes throughout the city. Money has been designated as follows: $750,000 for repairs and improvements to the city’s police and fire station, $550,000 for repairs at City Hall, $155,000 for repairs at the Venetian Pool and $103,000 for bridge and waterway repairs.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Beware of fake property claims - The modern Squatter.

WEDDINGTON, N.C. (AP) – July 12, 2011 – Officials at Charlotte-area courthouses say they are seeing epidemic of frivolous paperwork filed by people claiming the right to seize foreclosed property.

The bogus deeds are being filed by people who claim to belong to the Moorish Science Temple of America, an obscure religious sect founded in the 1920s with beliefs loosely connected to Islam.

In one incident, a real estate agent and a couple viewing a foreclosed $700,000 home in the Union County town of Weddington were confronted on June 1 by two men who produced a deed claiming the home in the name of the Moorish Science Temple, The Mecklenburg Times reported.

“These two guys came in, showed the purported deed and said the Moorish Temple now owned this house,” Detective Brian Keziah of the Union County Sheriff’s Department. “They took over the house.”

The deed filed May 20 claims ownership of the house by the Moorish Science Temple of America “to have and to hold forever.” Officers found personal items inside the home, Keziah said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the sect as a rapidly growing black nationalist religious movement whose members consider themselves individually sovereign and independent of government authority. The group says on its website it doesn’t subscribe to sovereign theory.

The grand sheik of the Moorish Science Temple in Charlotte said his group is not affiliated with any effort to seize vacant properties. Christopher Bennett-Bey said he has heard of similar real estate scams around the country, which misrepresent a faith he has followed for more than two decades. He said he does not believe people using the group’s name are members.

“It really outrages me,” Bennett-Bey said. “Our purpose is to teach our members to be law-abiding citizens, and then I hear something like this. It’s a bad reflection on the entire organization.”

J. David Granberry, Mecklenburg County’s register of deeds, said at least 200 deeds and other documents filed in his office in the name of the Moorish Science Temple are “outright fraud.” Granberry said he’s seen forgeries and notary fraud in the deeds claiming ownership of vacant, foreclosed properties. Many times, the documents appear official and legitimate, he said.

“My records are literally full of this stuff,” he said. “It’s like an epidemic, as far as I can tell.”

In Union County, about 25 deeds have been filed this year in the name of the Moorish Science Temple, Register of Deeds Crystal Crump said.

Granberry and other officials said as more homes have fallen into foreclosure and been vacated, the more opportunity there’s been for others to move in.

Real estate agents in Virginia and police in California warn of similar incidents there.

“Today, all you have to do is go on to the Internet to find sites that purport to tell you how to beat your mortgage,” said Tom Miller, legal counsel for the North Carolina Real Estate Commission.

Registers of deeds say they are powerless in the face of fake deeds. As long as the deeds meet certain requirements, their offices must accept them, Crump said.

“We don’t check to make sure the title is good,” Crump said. “That’s why people have an attorney. Anybody can do this, and there is nothing we can do to stop it.”

The problem could be curbed if state law were changed to make it illegal to file worthless documents, including deeds that record the transfer of real estate ownership, Granberry said.

“We will still have to file (the deed), but they could be prosecuted,” he said.

Police aren’t powerless, however, when someone tries to exert control of property they falsely claim to own.

Asaru A. Ali, 39, and Kenneth W. Lewis, 52, both of Charlotte, were arrested after surprising the real estate agent and the potential buyers at the Weddington home.

Lewis was charged with breaking and entering, first-degree trespass, obtaining property by false pretenses and possession of stolen goods. He was being held Friday on $500,000 bond and had no listed attorney, a Union County jail officer said. Calls left for him or his family on two answering machines were not returned Friday.

Ali was charged with breaking and entering and taking possession of a house without consent. He has been released from jail. A man answering a phone number listed in Ali’s name said he didn’t know Ali or how to reach him.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Sould your taxes pay for art in public buildings.

Behind a secure door, up an elevator, down a hallway, behind a partition and inside some crates is a piece of public art.

The colorful glass sculpture inside, called "Linaje,'' cost taxpayers $25,000 and was planned for "high visibility.'' So far, it's only getting exposure as a symbol of troubles in Broward County's Art in Public Places program.

Public art advocates say Florida is a national leader in spending public money on quality art. All three South Florida counties do it. But can taxpayers afford it? This time, it's Broward that's split in debate.

Exasperated Broward officials, most of them supporters of public art, nevertheless said it's time to tighten up a program that has allowed the glass sculpture to lie unseen long after it was paid for and created, and that shifts tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to art when painful cuts have been made elsewhere.

Commissioners also want a say in what art gets built, where.

"I look at my own life,'' Broward's John Rodstrom said. "I have collected art in the past and I haven't bought a piece in a while. I don't have the disposable income. I think a lot of America feels that way right now.''

No, thanks

Some taxpayers don't want government taking their money and buying art with it, especially art they think is ugly.

One remedy that's likely to be approved in the fall — commissioners said they want to hold a public vote on every art project with a price tag of $100,000 or more.

"It's ridiculous. Especially today, I don't think we have the money to be spending on crappy art like that," traveler and Deerfield Beach resident Robert Pinder said, standing in Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and pointing to an artist's airplane hanging from a ceiling.

Will the public like a $185,000 "Curtain of Democracy'' 25-foot tall totem pole that represents "the flow of democracy in action''? It was approved in 2009 for the elections headquarters, and is on hold.

Does the public appreciate, or just mock, the giant coral "rice cake'' and "upside down ice cream cone'' geometric sculptures on the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale?

A $66,000 freestanding drum circle just revives a bad memory for Commissioner Kristin Jacobs, an arts supporter. In an episode of "I Love Lucy," Little Ricky banged on a set of drums, tap-tap-tapping on Lucy and Ricky's nerves.

The drums will be installed when Pompano Beach's Northeast Transit Center is built. It's not art, Jacobs complained.

"I think of that just as I think in the episode of "I Love Lucy" they thought of those drums: making them crazy.''

No more "plop art'

One thing has already changed: There'll be no more art that's just plopped down for people to look at in Broward.

Deriding standalone art as "plop art,'' Broward officials in January rewrote the public art law to say that all the art has to be "integrated'' into the project, making it more practical and less subject to public criticism.

Every Broward government-built project gets public art — even renovations do — usually at a price that's 2 percent of the overall budget, though commissioners can reduce it or cut it out entirely.

Functional, integrated public art is something like the "Flying Saucer Grove'' that provides lighting outside the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise.

Plop art, though, would be something like the military busts in Veterans Park west of Boca Raon. The 14-foot steel eagle at Zoo Miami. The "Gumby''-like family outside the Broward Sheriff's Office on Broward Boulevard.

Or in Washington, D.C., the Lincoln Memorial.

You call that public?

It might be public art, but that doesn't mean you can go look at it.

The $25,000 glass "Linaje'' is hidden behind a partition on an unused floor of Broward's Main Library. It was waiting for all the glass in the library to be replaced, but because of all the attention, Broward Cultural Division Director Mary Becht said it'll be assembled soon.

It's not the only hidden public art.

The Sun Sentinel had to have an escort to view art in cruise terminals at Port Everglades.

One of the art pieces there, a much-ballyhooed neon-light piece embedded in the ceiling, might never be seen by most people — it will be dismantled and possibly discarded from public use, officials said, because the terminal is one of three to be renovated. And when that happens, the county plans to spend another $462,000 on public art.

Anywhere, USA

"People sit on them, rub them, kiss them, pray to them, lean on them, sleep on them, trip over them, and birds love them also,'' as one lady put it to commissioners.

"They are our legacy, and speak volumes as to what kind of people we are,'' local historic preservationist Steve Glassman urged. "Otherwise we could be Anywhere, USA. And that would be sad.''

At the Americans for the Arts non-profit advocacy group in Washington, D.C., Liesel Fenner said she'd just come back recently from West Palm Beach, where an annual public art convention was held. She called public art "integral to tourism'' and said Miami-Dade and Broward have high-level programs. Palm Beach County's is much more modest, its art collection smaller.

Broward officials said art spending might not be a priority for people right now. Broward's Jacobs said it should be delayed or cut back, and can come back with a flourish when the economy does.

People are having tough times, they've lost jobs, they've lost homes.

But Broward Mayor Sue Gunzburger argued they need art now more than ever.

There's a Hebrew word, n'shamah, she told her colleagues.

"It means soul. And art is part of the soul of a community.''

Then commissioners voted 6-3 to approve another art project, this one a plaza for the coming Broward County Courthouse. Price tag: $610,000.

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