Amid tax revenue losses, Broward leaders rely on property value increase, hope for aid from state, feds

Broward County leaders met on Tuesday for a budget workshop and released some details about the state of the tourist-centric economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mayor Steve Geller and Bertha Henry, the county’s top administrator, met with commissioners to report the tax revenue losses have resulted in budget shortfalls.

“We know that we have not been collecting revenue with transit,” Henry said. “We know that we have not been collecting revenue at our parks.”

The largest losses came from the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and the Port Everglades Cruiseport in Fort Lauderdale. The port’s $32 million loss in revenue was mainly because cruise traffic came to a standstill. Even with a reduced budget and lower fuel demands, less cargo means more losses are likely.

Mark E. Gale, the chief executive officer and director of aviation for the Broward County Aviation Department, said he remains optimistic that there will be “a near-full” economic recovery by the fiscal year 2022.

In the meantime, Geller and Henry trust the aid that is coming from the federal and state government will help with the recovery. Henry said Broward’s unemployment rate rose from 2.6% (in December 2019) to 6.6% (in December 2020).

This is a slide shown during a Broward County budget workshop on Tuesday. (Broward County)

There are still projects in the works in Broward County, including the construction of a new airport terminal, a convention center, and transportation improvements. There is a lot of new private construction, and this is good for the county’s budget because property taxes make up the largest chunk of it.

Marty Kiar, the property appraiser, said people from the northern states are moving to Broward and driving real estate prices up during the pandemic. He reported single-family home values are up nearly 13%, so the taxable value is up nearly 3% based on preliminary numbers. He expects vacancies in retail to increase.

“What I heard you say is that our affordable housing crisis got much worse,” Geller said during Kiar’s presentation. Kiar agreed and later added, “We do live in the most unaffordable place in the country.”

Commissioner Nan H. Rich said they are trying to get more funding from the state to build affordable housing. Commissioner Dale Holness, who is a real estate broker, said he was concerned about the sustainability of the rise in property values. Broward County Vice Mayor Michael Udine thinks residential prices are going to shoot up even higher because of the supply-demand imbalance.

“Everybody that I know that can sell their house right now is trying to figure out a way to sell it because the property values have gone so astronomically through the roof,” Udine said. “The problem is there is no way for them to go if they want to stay in Broward County.”

Hotels’ revenues are down because of a nearly quarter loss in occupancy. Stacy Ritter, the chief executive officer of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, believes the recovery of the local economy is dependant on the success of the vaccination campaigns.

“Until there’s enough of us vaccinated that people feel comfortable traveling, it’s not going to come back the way it was pre-pandemic,” Ritter said.

This is one of the slides used during the Broward County commissioners' budget workshop on Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale. (Broward County)

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