Broward looks to raise rates while cutting services
Broward County residents and businesses could be paying more out of pocket to the government next year even if they don’t own property.
County commissioners moved Tuesday toward an increase in bus fares, park fees and tariffs at Port Everglades. That’s on top of a proposed increase in the property tax rate that would raise taxes for some — but not all — property owners.
Broward is wrestling with providing libraries, mass transit, jails and other general services while revenue to the county plunges and many residents are financially crippled as well. The resulting $3.6 billion total budget — set for votes on Sept. 14 and 28 — offers a medley of gashes in services and increases in fees. The overall property tax income to the county, though, will drop.
In the world of government priorities, extras such as parks and libraries are often the first to be cut.
Marvin Quittner, an attorney, got a dose of the new reality when he visited his favorite county park last week. He found “one sign, half falling off” a bathroom door, alerting him that the parks would be closed Tuesday and Wednesday. After a summer respite, county parks returned to a Tuesday-Wednesday closure to save money. That will continue in the coming budget, the county administrator confirmed Tuesday.
“I had heart surgery last summer and I’m a little bit overweight,” Quittner said. “I’ve been almost every morning of the past three months riding my bike.”
Quittner was outraged that the county can’t keep Heritage Park in Plantation open. Only four county parks are open every day, under the new austerity.
“There’s no reasonable, rational argument why these parks shouldn’t and couldn’t be open,” he said.
Visitors to the Main Library downtown will find it closed on weekends, under the tightening proposed in the coming spending year, which starts Oct. 1.
The county proposes a property tax rate of about $567 for every $100,000 of taxable value. Last year’s rate was about $538. For about 65 percent of property owners, taxes would stay the same or go down, because their property value sank. Tax bills would rise, though, for the remaining 35 percent, many of them homesteaded residential owners.
That’s just the county portion of the tax bill. The school board, hospital district and city are some of the others who tax properties.
If commissioners resist the higher tax rate, deeper cuts will be required. If they approve it, they’ll have raised the general services tax rate for the first time in 12 years.
Commissioners will vote on Sept. 14 and Sept. 28 on whether to:
Increase bus fares, including a rise in the monthly bus pass for college students from $26 to $40, a hike in the one-way fare from $1.50 to $1.75, and an all-day ticket increase from $3.50 to $4.00.
Cut six bus routes — 3, 15, 17, 23, 56 and 57. Ridership on all the routes is far below the average. One of them, route 57 in Tamarac and North Lauderdale, has only about seven riders an hour, for example. The average is about 37.
Raise fees at parks, including for sports fields like football or cricket, community meeting room use, pony rides, target range use, water park tickets and more. The county has 38 parks and nature areas.
Increase fees charged at Port Everglades to bring in $3.6 million more. The higher rates would apply to cruise ships who dock at the port, as well as to container ships and yachts. Cargo storage rates would go up, as well.
The county’s troubles will contribute to the unemployment ranks as well. About 100 jobs that were filled are slated for elimination. About 60 of the employees already have shifted to other jobs in county government. The remainder face layoffs.
Employees who still have jobs won’t get raises. Friday they’ll take another unpaid day off. Most county offices won’t be open.