Mar 27, 2024 - News

New taxes on Miami Beach, Surfside, Bal Harbour would fund homeless services

Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust representatives distribute water and shelter information during a heat wave last year. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust wants to collect new taxes on restaurants in Miami Beach, Surfside and Bal Harbour to fund homelessness efforts and domestic violence centers — but some elected officials are speaking out against the idea.

Why it matters: Miami-Dade's 1% food and beverage tax — charged at restaurants across the county, except for the three municipalities that already have a resort tax — funds the Homeless Trust and domestic violence shelters.

  • The Homeless Trust reported receiving $36.2 million last fiscal year from the tax, which applies to restaurants that gross more than $400,000 a year, serve alcohol and are not connected to a hotel.
  • Chairman Ron Book tells Axios he estimates the Trust would receive an additional $10 million if the tax exemption is lifted for Miami Beach, Surfside and Bal Harbour.

What they're saying: Book says the Trust exempted the cities back in 1992 when the Florida Legislature first created the tax with "an understanding that if we ever ran short of money, we were coming back."

  • In 2023, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill lifting the exemption if approved by a majority of voters in a referendum.
  • Book said the Trust — which funds homeless outreach, temporary shelters and permanent housing through property acquisitions — is "short on cash."

Catch up fast: Miami Beach and Bal Harbour commissioners approved ballot measures last year to ask voters this November whether to impose the tax in the municipalities.

  • A majority of Miami Beach voters supported the tax in a non-binding straw ballot in 2021.
  • Despite lobbying by the Homeless Trust, Surfside has not yet approved a ballot measure.

The intrigue: Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett tells Axios he will not support the tax, and Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez says she intends to propose rescinding the city's ballot measure.

  • Rosen Gonzalez, who voted for the tax last year, tells Axios she changed her mind because she didn't have the votes to oppose it at the time. Since then, the city elected a new mayor and three new commissioners.
  • Rosen Gonzalez owns Cafe Bernie, which could be impacted by the tax, but says she has opposed the tax since "way before I owned a restaurant."

Friction point: Rosen Gonzalez — who says Miami Beach already sends over $270 million a year to the county from property taxes — criticized the effectiveness and transparency of the Homeless Trust.

  • She says voters were manipulated in the 2021 straw ballot because the Trust ran an "aggressive" campaign without opposition and did not provide all the facts.

Burkett says he believes in the mission of the Homeless Trust but feels Surfside has contributed a fair share to the agency and "will continue to … according to our ability to do so."

Context: The Homeless Trust has recurring annual commitments from Miami Beach ($125,000) and Bal Harbour ($50,000), per a Homeless Trust memo.

  • Surfside has contributed "on occasion," but not recently, Book tells Axios.

The other side: Book says the Homeless Trust is fully transparent about its finances and has made huge strides to end homelessness in the county over the last 30 years. Miami-Dade has gone from 8,000 unsheltered people in the early '90s to around 1,000 today.

  • "Negative rhetoric gets us nowhere and we should all remain focused on being the first community in America to end homelessness and it should be every community leader's goal to join and be a part," Book wrote in an email.

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