By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
After a series
of state-mandated hearings, it’s official: The Dade County Commission has kept
taxes at last year’s level for the county and accepted the 1.25 spike that the
school board adopted independently.
At a special
called meeting Monday evening, Dade’s five-man commission voted unanimously to
adopt a millage rate of 6.443 for the unincorporated county and 8.283 for the
city of Trenton, Dade’s only incorporated township. Commissioners also duly, as
they do each year, formally accepted the school board’s rate of 15.170 as
presented by Schools Superintendent Shawn Tobin, with only District 1
Commissioner Mitchell Smith voting against.
commission’s vote in favor – and certainly Smith’s vote dissenting – were both
matters of form. The school board is an autonomous taxing authority empowered
by state law to adopt its own rate, acting independently of, and sometimes, as
Smith’s vote might indicate, in friction with, the county government.
commission’s special called meeting followed the last of three public hearings
on the millage rate. Though the
commissioners had wrestled mightily, and amid some publicity, to avoid a tax
hike this year, they explained that growth in the tax digest, and the
complicated mathematics of millage, made for a miniscule rate increase, from
8.097 last year to 8.283 for fiscal 2014. This increase triggered the legal
requirement of the hearings.
couple of hearings, both on July 18, were attended only by two taxpayers acting
under the assumption that the tax increase advertised as required by law was,
in fact, a tax increase, and turning up in opposition to same.
But the July 29
final hearing drew a bigger and more varied crowd. Perhaps a dozen citizens
turned out, and a few spoke. Annette Cash, director of Dade’s Senior Center,
stood up to speak for county employees, pointing out that the county is once
again about to start unpaid furloughs for the workers, and arguing that the
commission should have raised taxes instead.
“I know how to
scrimp and save,” she said. “[But] I don’t see ever retiring because we can’t
the meeting, Ms. Cash said she knew was sticking her neck out but that she saw
the coming furloughs as one more onslaught against middle-class people who were
already hurting with low wages and rising prices for basics like food and gas.
“Cut my pay but leave my drivers alone,” she said.
She said she
and her coworkers were careful to shop in Dade to support local businesses with
their purchases and the county with the resulting sales taxes. “We’re
supporting them but nobody’s supporting us,” she said. “They just keep taking
and taking and taking from us.”
And at the
hearing itself, she fussed a little at the commissioners for turning a blind
eye to the segment of the population her program addresses. “I know how hard
you work, but I never see you come into the senior center,” she said.
board member William Back also addressed the commission, not for or against
higher county taxes but in favor of giving a little more of them to the
library. He brought up a suggestion the library has introduced before:
Dedicating some percentage of a millage point to maintaining the library.
was devastated in 2012 when the school board, which had shared responsibility
for supporting the library with the county and the city of Trenton, abruptly
ducked out from under, zeroing out its funding entirely. With that situation
ongoing and the general financial picture only worsening, the library after
this Saturday will be open only three days a week, and administration says the
institution is now going through the last of its financial reserves and must
close after this fiscal year if a solution is not found.
Back said that
industries look for certain amenities in communities they are considering as
possible business locations. “A library open essentially full-time is one of
those amenities,” he said. “It makes a statement about what kind of community
we are and what kind of commitment we make to our young people.”
Robert Goff and Allan Bradford both spoke of the economic gloom that currently
engulfs not just Dade but the broader world. “Everybody is barely surviving
these days,” said Bradford. Goff said the county is doing all it can to bring
in new industry but is hampered by not having basic services to lure it, such
as sewers, or, given recent damage, good roads. “In the last month we’ve had
over a million in damage to our roads, almost a million and a half,” said Goff.
And Dade County
Executive Chairman Ted Rumley warned as he has before that the commission will
not be able to keep taxes down forever. “I don’t know how we’re going to get by
without a tax increase next year of some kind,” he said.
the commission dealt with in the special called meeting was approving an ADA
(Americans with Disabilities Act) plan. County Attorney Robin Rogers explained
that the county was required to adopt such a plan, he had drafted one, and time
was running out for adopting it.
Under the plan,
ADA grievances would go to a designated administrator – in this case, the
county’s human resources employee, Mary Bailey – for settlement, and if
satisfaction is not achieved, her decisions may be appealed to Rumley or to
some representative designated by Rumley.
commissioners voted to approve Rogers’ plan.
discussed but did not vote on the aforementioned furloughing of county
employees. Their regular August meeting is scheduled for this Thursday, and
they left the matter until then.
pointed out that shutting down the county Administrative Building on Fridays,
as was done during previous furloughs, saved “a tremendous amount of money” in
utilities and could do so again this year.
Don Townsend said it will have to, if the county is to meet its objective of
cutting another 3 percent from its newly-adopted $9.5 million budget to deal
with a shortfall projected after the final tax digest numbers came in. “We’re
still short $143,775,” he said. “We’re still looking at trying to sell some
property on Back Valley, and that’s really the only way we’re going to do
meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the Commission room of the Administrative Building.