Key Biscayne adopts $41.2 million budget filled with big projects
The Key Biscayne Village Council handed its manager a major victory late Tuesday, passing a $41.2 million budget that tees up capital projects to address flooding, beach renourishment and other resiliency projects.
Some last minute trimming slightly softened the tax impact, but non-homesteaded residents will see increases of about 9%, a number driven by a soaring real estate market.
Critics had attacked everything from hurricane reserves to nail salon charges, but supporters of the administration praised staff for running a lean government. In the end, Village Manager Steve Williamson advanced a budget filled with capital improvements.
By the time of the 6-0 vote at 11:30 p.m., most of the critics had long gone home. So had council member and resident budget hawk Ed London, who said when caught outside Village Hall that he had to get up early in the morning and that his lone nay vote wouldn’t change anything.
The Council decided to defer $250,000 in spending on the Harbor Drive and Fernwood Road traffic circle while dust settles on a new Crandon Boulevard right-turn lane and the flow pattern of the newly opened St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church. That left money to be restored to the feral cat program – which had a number of impassioned public speakers —and some extra cash for the Youth Council.
In the end, the Council was indeed able to cut the tax - or millage rate – to 3.1245, a slight reduction from last year’s rate of 3.1533. Still because property values increased 9.7%, residents will be paying more.
How much more? Residents who are not homesteaded – commercial properties, landlords – will see their taxes increase about 9%.
Homesteaded owners would see a modest 3% tax increase – which is far below the inflation rate of 7.8% for the Miami area.
“I have gone through this budget backwards, forwards, sideways, whatever way you want to go – this is the leanest budget of all municipal budgets you will ever look at it. It is hard to find places to remove things,” said Council Member Brett Moss.
Mayor Joe Rasco said when he talks to residents he hears the same refrain: end traffic congestion, stop street flooding, complaints about maintenance. Yet, then he hears members of the Key Biscayne Neighborhood Association say they want to cut spending.
“Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die,” Rasco said. “It’s like ‘Yeah, we want you to maintain stuff, but I don’t know, do it with somebody else’s budget.'”
Throughout the night, capital improvement projects were assailed. Rasco wondered if residents were experiencing the same ubiquitous flooding he witnessed over the weekend. “It’s a fallacy that we don’t need to take care of this flooding. I mean, it’s a ridiculous argument,” he said.
The drumbeat for the last week on the Key Biscayne social media chats were indicating that cordiality would be an afterthought with some posters personally attacking Williamson and members of Council – and their families.
Others went after Village staff, saying they were being paid too much. While others posted about what looked like unusual expenses incurred by the Village.
But even the harshest of Council’s critics on Tuesday night kept it fairly polite. They did often hit the same old note, though: the Village was hoarding cash in its reserves funds and over-budgeting.
“It appears that we have an orgy of overspending,” said former lobbyist Fausto Gomez, who ran unsuccessfully against Rasco last year. “I looked at the Village’s credit cards and probably the most interesting example is that the Village is now paying for manicures and pedicures.”
A screenshot going around the chats showed an April 2021 expenditure of $312 by the Village at Neo Nail Bar. Juan C. Gutierrez – the Village’s human resource director – said the expenditure was for gift cards to show appreciation for secretaries in honor of Administrative Professionals Day.
“Sitting here today, it is stunning the myths and disinformation that is being circulated in this community,” said resident Jennifer Stearns Buttrick. “If you look at best practices in municipal government, Key Biscayne checks off every single item. This is probably one of the best run municipal governments in existence.”
After the Council adopted the tentative budget on Sept. 12 with a slightly higher millage rate of 3.15, Rasco asked Williamson to present three plans that proposed various cuts – including one that would eliminate $1.5 million in spending that was favored by London.
London favored retrofitting the current fire-rescue trucks and cutting staff at the police and fire department – Williamson rejected those scenarios. He said $1.5 million in cuts would mean canceling the installation of security cameras throughout the island, eliminating 15 percent of funding for sacred events – like the July 4th parade – and curtailing renovations to Beach Park, among a long list.
The Council listened to Williamson and London left early.
This story was originally published in the Key Biscayne Independent, a WLRN News partner.