His local library already closes Wednesdays to save money, so to drop off a book this week, Luis Ruiz stepped out of his car in the rain and slipped a Paulo Coelho tome in the drop box.
Soon, he may no longer have even that option.
The Fairlawn branch, on Southwest Eighth Street near 64th Avenue, is one of 22 Miami-Dadepublic libraries that could shut their doors this fall as part of far-reaching cuts to the county budget. That’s nearly half of the county’s 49 libraries.
“They really shouldn’t close any,” said Ruiz, 58, who sometimes visits the branch with his 13-year-old son. “They should open more.”
Also facing the budget ax are six fire-rescue trucks, which, combined with the library closures, could result in 400 employee layoffs. The fire department is $15 million short, and the library department has a $20 million gap.
Both departments are funded with taxes separate from the county’s more-than $4 billion operating budget, which means money can’t be shuffled from other areas to backfill their budgets. Their spending had been bolstered over the past two years by funds left over from prior years that have now run out.
The extent of the potential cuts began to crystallize this week after county commissioners approved Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s recommendation to keep the property-tax rate flat — a decision that ensured pain at libraries and fire stations. The mayor had initially proposed hiking the rate to maintain services, but he changed course.
The distress has been particularly acute at the fire-rescue department’s Doral headquarters, where 40 firefighter/paramedic recruits halfway through their training would be first in line to lose their jobs.
Many left positions — and seniority — with other fire departments earlier this year when they were selected for Miami-Dade’s first new class since 2008.
“My boys had a lot of questions about why I left the other department,” said Carlos Alvear, a father of two and former city of Miami firefighter and Marine Corps veteran who said he was deployed three times to Iraq. “And I said, ‘It’s more stable.’ ”
Twenty-eight of the 40 recruits are military veterans. Others have pregnant wives due over the next few months, including Charles Francois, a former city of Tallahassee firefighter who has wanted to join the Miami-Dade force since he was in a firefighter program at North Miami Senior High School in 2006. His fiancée is expecting a girl.
“It’s disheartening to know that she’s going to be here in September and I’m not sure how I’m going to pay for it,” said Francois, 24.
What the recruits and firefighters fear most, they say, is that eliminating three rescue trucks, two fire engines and a fire platform — a truck with a ladder — could result in slower response times for emergencies.
The average response time to life-threatening calls has risen slightly over the past two years, to a projected eight minutes, 17 seconds this year from eight minutes, five seconds in 2011, according to the department’s 2013-14 proposed budget. That document set next year’s target response time at eight minutes, 20 seconds — but that was with a tax rate hike that would have at least maintained, not trimmed, current services.