By Selene Raj
Tamarac homeowners can expect millage rates to remain the same in 2021, but it wasn’t without a tense fight to lower the rate.
Accusations of playing by the same script and shady politics flew as the commission decided the fate of next year’s property tax rate at the September meeting.
The tentative operating millage rate of 7.2899 was proposed and approved for the fiscal year 2021—at .4964 mills, or 7.31 percent above the rollback rate of 6.7935 mills.
This would be the ninth consecutive year with no change to the millage rate.
However, due to financial burdens resulting from COVID-19, some residents urged the commission to lower the rate.
Tamarac resident Valerie Harper called in to the virtual meeting and said people were struggling, and she understood if taxes were raised, but asked the city to consider lowering them.
Vice Mayor Marlon Bolton asked city staff members for exact figures to explore exactly how going to the rollback rate (or a tax reduction) would impact the city and residents.
If the city went with a property tax rollback rate, more than $2 million in revenue for the city would be lost. However, residents could save an average of $10.62 per month.
Commissioner Julie Fishman recalled meeting a city employee and resident at a food distribution earlier in the week, who just found out his wife was pregnant.
She said that employees also needed to be considered.
“When we’re looking at balancing the needs of our residents, staff, and going forward, we’ve got to keep that in mind as well,” she said.
Towards the end of the meeting, things took a tense turn.
Bolton accused Mayor Michelle Gomez and Fishman of failing to lower taxes, year after year, despite his requests to make budget cuts.
According to Bolton, had they worked with him to lower the budget in 2016, 2017, 2018, or 2018, they would not have found themselves in such an impossible situation now.
“Had we a more thoughtful leader [in previous years], we would not have residents complaining now about how their tax bills are so high,” said Bolton.
He said they sounded like a broken record, and were playing the same game instead of making thoughtful decisions, year after year, and added they should have been spending money on better things, instead of things like the glossy Tam-AGram magazine and superfluous raises.
He then turned towards this year’s proposed rates.
“What do we do in a year when the coronavirus has hit? We play the same game again, and we say, ‘Oh no, we can’t do the budget cuts this year because if we do the budget cuts, maybe next year there’s a recession. You’ve been saying that since 2016.”
He urged for a lower rate, despite objections.
“Reduce the millage rates, let us live below our means,” he insisted.
Bolton then accused Gomez of saying the same thing, word for word, each year. “Can I show them? It’s a script,” he said, holding up a piece of paper with what appeared to be transcription on it. “We’re given the same script every year.”
Gomez later said that the “script” was a reading of things into the public record, not a script, and told Bolton that attacking her was not the same as defending his residents.
Bolton was not without support, as Commissioner Mike Gelin advocated for lowering the rates saying the commission needed to make a small sacrifice. While he would be okay with raising taxes when the economy turns around, he wanted them to compromise while it was at an all-time low.
“I’m not sure if I’m in favor of going all the way down to the rollback rate, but I do think we should take a little bit of a step back and go down to the 7.1 mills, and I think that’s where there’s more of a shared sacrifice,” said Commissioner Gelin.
Ultimately, Bolton and Gelin voted in favor of adopting the lower rollback rate, but the motion failed when Gomez, Placko, and Fishman voted against it.
The second motion, to adopt the 7.2899 millage rate, passed 4-1, with Gelin voting against the proposed millage rate.
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- Selene Raj is a writer and a Florida International University graduate. Born in Trinidad and raised in America, she completed her Master's in Mass Communications in 2020, and has been living in Coral Springs since 2004. She is passionate about the communities she lives and works in and loves reporting and sharing stories that are as complex and meaningful as the people who live in them.
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