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New Courthouse Could Bring More Debt to Miami-Dade

September 1, 2014 - 6:00pm

Miami-Dade County voters may be asked to take on more debt to build a new county courthouse, though the mayor and others oppose the idea if it means higher property taxes.

County commissioners have until Wednesday to decide whether to include the new courthouse plan on the Nov. 6 ballot. If the board says yes, voters will have the final say.

The mayor does not support increasing taxes at this time, said Michael Hernandez, Mayor Carlos Gimenezs chief of communications.

While he is committed to ensuring the courthouse receives the necessary maintenance, he is committed to holding the line on taxes.

The mayor has been clear that he is opposed to tax increases to fund the renovation of the Dade County Courthouse. He will not endorse it. While he understands the need to renovate and modernize our facilities, he is opposed to doing so by increasing the burden on our taxpayers, Hernandez said.

Construction of a new courthouse will cost taxpayers about $540 million, according to a legislative report, while renovations of the West Flagler Street facility will cost about $25 million.

To pay for a new courthouse, the report says the courts debt will need to be restructured.

Included in the $540 million is the (refunding) of $132 million in existing court debt, and the refinancing of $18.2 million for Family Courthouse Center bonds. If implemented its estimated the countywide debt service millage would increase an average of 0.09 mill over the life of the bonds using current roll growth assumptions, according to the legislative report.

For the average homesteaded property with a taxable value of $200,000, the 0.09 mills equates to $18 annually.

The countys vintage 1925 courthouse is undergoing a $30 million renovation to update the plumbing and prop up the deteriorating columns. The building houses the countys circuit, civil and family courts.

But according to some, the old courthouse just doesnt cut it anymore. A resolution sponsored by Commissioner Xavier Suarez says the facility is aging and no longer able to meet the needs of Miami-Dade County.

But the question remains: How much debt can the county handle?

I think we have to be very careful to not get into debt more in the United States and not to put into the budget more pressure on the consumers spending in Miami-Dade, who ultimately will end up paying some of this, in particular if property taxes increase, Jorge Salazar Carrillo, professor of economics at Florida International University, told Florida Watchdog.

Efforts to contact County Commissioners Rebeca Sosa, Linda Bell, Jose "Pepe" Diaz, Bruno Barreiro and Juan Zapata, who told the Miami Herald they oppose building a new courthouse, were unsuccessful.

Those projects are white elephants, because they dont pay for themselves, but money comes from the pocket of the poor taxpayers, Salazar Carrillo said.

Marianela Toledoi is the journalistic force behind Watchdog.orgs Spanish-language reporting. Since 2012 she has investigated fraud, waste and abuse at the state and local level of Florida government.

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