As the story of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue budget cuts continues to evolve, I want to provide some valuable information to our fire district family. Your fire department exists to protect your life and your property. We do this through emergency medical services and firefighting services.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue is almost completely funded by property taxes paid by property owners within the fire taxing district. This money is collected for the sole purpose of providing fire and rescue services. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has repeatedly pointed out that funds cannot be moved between the fire department and the general fund. This might not be completely accurate.
Recent history has shown that money gets moved from the fire district to the general fund each and every year. In September 2009, $4.5 million of fire-district tax funds were moved to the general fund. This movement of monies happened without any real explanation or legal justification.
This happened again in September 2010, when another $4.6 million was moved. There is currently $9.1 million of fire-district tax money sitting in the general fund. This is money wrongfully taken from fire-district taxpayers who paid that money for fire-rescue services. The firefighters union believes that this action violates Florida’s Constitution.
Most taxpayers are not aware that this movement of money happens every year. Despite the fact that county-owned properties do not pay into the fire district, each year the fire department is forced to pay a roughly $17 million “tax” to the general fund. In a year when the mayor is proposing to shut down three fire trucks, it is shocking that he is increasing the “tax” on the fire department by $2.4 million. This increase is equivalent to the annual operating cost of one fire truck. Taxpayers in the fire-taxing district will lose a fire truck so that more money can be shifted to county administration.
This is not the only disturbing practice: The formula used to calculate this “tax” is not openly shared with the fire department. At one point the formula was calculated based on the number of employees that work for the fire department. Surprisingly, the amount keeps going up even though the department is working with 100 fewer employees.
Firefighters are demanding that taxpayers in the fire district be treated fairly. If the department is being asked to tighten its belt and live within its means, then the county administration should do the same. A recent handout provided to residents at town hall meetings revealed a troubling fact: Since 2011, the funding for the offices of the mayor and county attorney, and all other public-safety departments has increased at the same time the funding for the fire department has been on a steady decline.
Your safety should be one of this government’s top priorities. If the mayor thinks there is no appetite for a tax increase, then he should stop increasing the “taxes” on the fire department. Give the department a reasonable chance to balance its budget without the burden of increasing administrative fees.
Rowan Taylor is president of Firefighters Local Union 1403.