Broward approves $8.6 billion budget with more for transportation, affordable housing
Broward county commissioners voted to approve the budget Tuesday night, spending $1.7 billion more than last year's, and leaving the property tax rate unchanged even as home values skyrocketed.
The $8.6 billion budget passed with the sole dissenting vote coming from Commissioner Michael Udine who had vowed to vote against the budget if the property tax rate was not lowered.
The county’s property tax rate remains steady at 5.6%, however because of increased property values most property owners will see an increase in their tax bill.
The significant increase in the overall budget is partly because of taxes from increased property values — about an 11% jump. However, it’s mostly due to operating and capital revenue from the airport, port and tourism, which have recovered following the COVID-19 pandemic.
The capital budget includes major projects including construction, maintenance and improvement and acquisition of facilities and infrastructure. It is funded by a variety of sources including taxes, bond and loan proceeds, grants, user fees, and fund balances.
The capital budget for next year saw an increase of $1.13 billion, driven by one-time capital items. The new Forensic Science Center project, Aviation projects and surtax projects related to the newly adopted Premium Mobility plan are driving that increase.
"We look to these capital projects to be major jobs stimuli, particularly with the board's focus on supporting local businesses which hire local residents," said County Administrator Monica Cepero.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office and affordable housing projects are also seeing significant increases in funding from the general fund.
Here are more details on this year's county budget:
The Premium Mobility plan was approved by commissioners earlier this year and is funded by the county’s transportation surtax. The 30-year, one percent surtax to fund transportation improvements was approved by voters in November 2018.
Projects funded include high frequency buses, two Light Rail Transit projects, two Bus Rapid Transit projects and Broward Commuter Rail South.
The budget for the Transportation Surtax program jumped by 54% for next year’s budget — climbing from $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion.
Broward Sheriff’s Office
The largest chunk of the county’s general budget will be spent on the Broward Sheriff's Office, which is receiving more than $743 million. While it’s not irregular for BSO to take up a bulk of the budget, the amount is even higher because of 30 newly created positions which were agreed upon by Sheriff Gregory Tony and commissioners.
The budget includes a significant increase for BSO, including $25 million for agency personnel cost, and $3.4 million for the 30 new positions.
Another priority, affordable housing, saw a spike in funding as well. More than $23 million is earmarked for funding new affordable housing units amid a countywide crisis. The budget is up 32% from last year.
More than $1 million will be used for 30-40 permanent supportive housing units, according to the budget. These units are used for people experiencing homelessness to get off the street and into an apartment.
The budget is supported with mitigation fees paid by developers and funds transferred from the General Fund. These funds will supplement resources from state and federal housing grants, state awards, and the Housing Finance Authority.
Vice-Mayor Nan Rich, who called for a workshop on affordable housing, said solving the crisis means building more homes and apartments.
"You have to look at building," she said. "We're a built out community. It’s extremely hard to build. But we can’t stop."
Tenant Right to Counsel Program
About a dozen speakers attended both public budget hearings to push for tenant right-to-counsel pilot program that would cost $2.7 million. The activists, from groups including Florida Rising and Coast to Coast Legal Aid, modeled their program after a similar eviction prevention program in Miami-Dade County that was approved last year and has seen success in the few months it has been funded by the county.
"The reality is our resources are limited, and we just don't have the resources we have to help everyone in need," Jeffrey Hittleman, a lawyer with Coast to Coast Legal Aid, told commissioners.
Commissioners said the request came too close to the finalization of the budget and that some of them would support the item next year.
The program includes money for more lawyers to work pro-bono on eviction cases and helping those being evicted navigate the complex legal process of being evicted. It also covers outreach for the program that would let people being evicted know that the program exists.
The county already funds the Legal Aid Service of Broward County, a separate but similar organization. Activists say the extra money would help more people, including senior citizens.