By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
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By Chris Joseph
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Another problem is that Franklin and several other residents contacted by New Times argue the central-county neighborhoods should stick together and be annexed en masse into a single city. If they insist on that and residents must vote on joining any city, the only choice is Fort Lauderdale, which boasts a population of 155,000. It's the only one that could possibly absorb all of them without turning politics and services upside down. The central county's population, 34,000, is bigger than the total of Lauderdale Lakes, three-quarters that of Lauderhill, and 40 percent of the number of residents in Plantation.
But Fort Lauderdale has made annexation unlikely. The city is demanding a yearly subsidy from the county for as long as a decade before it accepts the properties, says Mayor Jim Naugle. But this past July 1, citing the promised $500 million in improvements, Broward commissioners voted to refuse any such monetary assistance. The city's position is a matter of simple math, Naugle contends. Residential areas need to have an average taxable value of $200,000 per house, or the city will spend more for services than it collects in property taxes. The average central-county house has a mere $50,000 taxable value. "Our policy is, when those areas can pay for themselves, they can come into the city," Naugle says. "But we don't want to impose higher taxes on the rest of the city to pay for them."
One other possibility is that the area could form its own city. But a county-backed study by Nova Southeastern University in 1998 shows that idea is infeasible. With little commercial property to provide tax revenues, a new city would have to charge property levies above the state-mandated maximum, the study concluded. Some residents would like to include U.S. Highway 441, now held by Plantation, in a new central-county city. But the area's state legislators -- Sen. Mandy Dawson and representatives Chris Smith and Matt Meadows -- agree that's a political impossibility.
Other annexations are moving apace these days. Residents of Rock Island, north of census tracts 411 and 413, may soon choose between Oakland Park and Fort Lauderdale. And Lauderdale Lakes is pondering annexation of West Ken Lark, which includes the Swap Shop. Last week, during a four-hour meeting at the Broward County Governmental Center, a committee of county leaders (successor to the 1996 ad hoc committee) agreed to push ahead aggressively with annexation, moving the deadline for its completion from 2010 to 2005. The quarrelsome group spent hours nitpicking definitions before making several other recommendations, including requiring submission of all the proposed annexations to the legislature in one bill. But most of what they suggested had been tried before -- and failed.
What will legislators do if the central county still has no civic suitor in 2005? Representative Smith admits this is likely. Senator Dawson hedges: "We would have to act responsibly. It would be so pathetic that even the hardest heart would have to help them." Despite the county's policy against subsidy, commissioners will likely have to allow the county chip in, she predicts.
If annexation follows its historic pattern, with the poorest areas being left for last, taxes on those remaining will rise even faster as the county struggles to provide basic services, says Marci Gelman, a top official in the county's budget office. Some officials have pegged the tax increase at 20 percent over the next two years.
That charge won't be easy on Charlean Rhodes. She and her mother can barely keep up with their house and yard. They have considered moving to a townhouse, Charlean says, but assume the taxes would be even higher.
The soon-to-be-built sidewalks and drainage improvements haven't benefited her, she says. They've only cost her the properties left by her father. "I just look at the money that we have paid out in taxes, and what do they do?" she asks. "They kick your butt -- and kick your ass out in the street. They don't give you nothing for all you pay."
Charlean knows that next year's taxes on her home will likely be higher than the 2000 total of $2057. "A damn can of worms," she calls it. She speaks vaguely, refusing to speculate, about what might happen to her and her mother Bertha if the levies keep rising for more than a couple of years. Anything's possible, she says. "You and me, we might be millionaires by then, you know?"