By Anne Newport Royall
The Miami Beach Taxpayers Association held its second general meeting in as many months in the glittery ballroom of the newly renovated Shelborne Hotel on Collins Avenue this past Wednesday morning. The group, resurrected by philanthropist Russell Galbut this year, boasts a new Board of Directors and an engaged, and in some instances, enraged membership of over 100 Miami Beach Taxpayers, many of whom were in attendance for breakfast.
Board Members were introduced, and they represent a population of engaged business and civic leaders who have been residents of the Beach for decades or more. They include Former Mayor Harold Rosen, Former Mayor Norman Cement, Frank Pintado of Standard Parking, Neighborhood Activist Marilyn Freundlich and hotelier Keith Mennin of the Mondrain, South Beach.
The group, moderated by President Jared Galbut, is already boasting a full compliment of standing committees and a website (so new much of the content is still “ipwich” placeholders). The group promises to post video archives of its meeting, blogs from the directors, and other resources for taxpayers to become more involved in civic matters as their mission states. Russell Galbut reiterated his goals for the group, which are ensuring, “Fiscal responsibility and to return ethics to our government and, of course, fix the Building Department”, which drew hearty applause from the group.
Much of that work, stated the senior Galbut, was to first identify the set of problems and issues at City Hall. That is the stage the association is on now, as evidenced by its open-forum format, which allows anyone to hold the floor and speak their mind in two minutes or less. And speak they did. although there were many comments related to the endless and redundant City construction projects, Ray Breslin, the unofficial ‘mayor’ of Collins Park, likened his neighborhood to a “bombed-out Beirut”, due to the inaction of the City to compel owners to maintain their properties, especially once they fall into litigation as many have due to the meltdown of the real estate market. One entire block, in particular, has been in disarray for the past eight years, and was recently victim to a serial arsonist. “The City can and should act”, stated Breslin.
That comment was echoed by realtor Daniel Hertzberg who bemoaned the condition of single family REO’s (properties in foreclose owned by the banks), and provided an example of a fund that could be established to help maintain these empty but attractive nuisances, that even in the best of Miami Beach’s neighborhoods cause social problems, such as squatting, to occur that bring down everyone’s property values even further.
Senior’s Activist Stanley Shapiro was particularly impressed with the “business leaders that are here and are taking an interest in our government”, in hopes that this body could sway “the Mayor and Commissioners to listen to the residents.”
There were two City Commissioners in the room. Jerry Libbin and Deede Weithorn. Commissioner Libbin educated the group on the conventions of the Sunshine Law, and invited everyone to attend his rescheduled Town Hall Meeting to discuss “not just Memorial Day weekend, but all MEP’s” or special events. The meeting, originally advertised for June 28, will now be held on August 24, 2011 at the Loewes Hotel at 1601 Collins Avenue beginning at 5:50 p.m. Not to be upstaged, Commissioner Weithorn grabbed the mic and extolled on a topic she and Commissioner Libbin “could discuss, since we will never get to vote on it”, the County’s Home Rule Charter. Commissioner Jonah Wolfson was represented by his aide, Leonora Hernandez.
Other taxpayers who stood to speak included Dr. David Roth, who addressed the flooding issues, especially on the west side of the island; Attorney Rick Kendle, who suggested setting up an Office of the Inspector General for the City to root out corruption; and Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club moderator and Taxpayer Board Member David Kelsey, who summed up part of the problem with the observation that the issues and concerns identified today are “obvious to outsiders and treated with indifference by the insiders”. Dushan Koller, a member of the City’s own Budget Advisory Committee, took the administration and elected official to task for using the “scare tactics” of immediately proposing cuts in police and fire service when facing budget shortfalls, as he feels the real issue is the “current payroll and future pension obligations”, of the City. He did not fault the unions, with the presidents of the Police and Fire locals, Officer Alexander Belo and Firefighter Adonis Garcia in attendance, who, he said,“do the best they can for their members” but held responsible those who “voted for the contracts”. Personnel costs combined with the practice of borrowing the money to do capitol improvements is an ‘unstainable practice, even in light of having the best tourist year ever” last year, he said.
anniversary in the “best public administration job in the country’, went on to promote his “glass more than half-full” picture of our tax-based That assertion of the historic year in tourism tax-revenue was backed up by City Manager Jorge Gonzalez, the guest of the group, (even though the manager himself is a taxpayer as a Miami Beach homeowner), who after reminding everyone he was approaching his 11th government with a primer in millage rates and a reiteration of the TRIM notice we all get annually that spells out the different jurisdictions making up our total tax-bill of over 22 mills. Approximately 23% of a homeowners total tax-bill comes back to the City to pay for all the “ services, amenities and quality of life” we enjoy by choosing to live here.
He stated his admiration for the groups’ principals and the meeting, yet admonished them to “be aware and educated in the truth.”
“Approximately 38% of the general fund operating budget of the City comes from ad velorum taxes,’ he said. Other sources, mainly resort taxes “make up the rest” and pay for the bulk of “the services residents enjoy.”
“Last year was the best tourist tax receipt year ever, with the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl. This year is shaping up to exceed last year, even without them,” Gonzalez pointed out.
He also stated that the City’s millage rate is lower than in 2001: It stands today at 6.77 mills (including debt service and the separate millage for maintenance), where a decade ago the millage was 9.51. In comparison, Aventura today has a millage rate of 1.73, the lowest in the County and the City of Miami claims the highest at 8.80 mills per $1,000.00 of assessed value).
“People choose to live here because they like what they get”, said Gonzalez. “And remember, Miami Beach is a little different.”
The Miami Beach Taxpayers Association meets the first Wednesday of every month at the Shelborne Hotel, 1801 Collins Avenue at 8:15 a.m. The public is welcome to attend. For info: Taxpayers