Much work has been done since the release of my proposed budget and the setting of the millage rates last month. Keeping tax rates flat is critical amid a sluggish national economy and with many of our residents still struggling to make ends meet in this job market.
That is why I recently challenged the federal government’s efforts to derail the merger of American Airlines and US Airways, which threatens Miami International Airport, our No. 1 economic engine — responsible for one in four local jobs.
Responding to our citizens’ needs and requests in a fiscally responsible manner has always been my top priority. Accordingly, we have held three Town Hall meetings — in North Dade, Palmetto Bay and Aventura — and have three more scheduled in West Dade, Little Haiti and Florida City. Hundreds have participated and their voices have been heard:
All libraries will remain open: We finalized a two-year plan that will keep all libraries open. Additionally, we have reduced the number of layoffs from 251 to 169. However, there will be reduced staffing and fewer service hours — 1,624 per week versus 2,016. To move toward a sustainable library system, we must take a transformative look at how our system operates and is funded. Dissolving the current restrictive library tax district to provide for countywide funding would allow for the flexibility needed to respond to the entire community’s priorities. We will work with community partners to study and assess our options.
No fire stations will close: Similarly, we have developed a plan that, among other things, shifts a number of administrative positions to operations and allows us to keep as many units in service as possible. At this point no stations will be closed but three suppression units and 59 firefighters will be eliminated. We will pursue a two-year federal grant to bring back the 59 firefighters facing imminent layoff. In the meantime, we will be negotiating a new contract with the Fire Union to secure additional savings, avoid further layoffs and service impacts, and build a sustainable fire rescue system.
Animal Services will move toward no-kill: Notwithstanding new budget challenges, Animal Services will move toward a no-kill policy with an unprecedented 40-percent increase in its budget. We will expand adoption events, efforts to return lost animals to owners, foster programs and rescue partnerships, and continue trap/neuter/release programs for cats. We will be establishing care and disease prevention programs, expanding free and low-cost sterilization options, furthering community outreach and creating grant programs for surrender prevention, large-animal rescue and responsible pet ownership. Construction of the new shelter will begin in 2014.
As is necessary during this process, we actualized various budgeted items — i.e., got the final numbers, as opposed to the amount budgeted. This includes franchise fees, CRA payments, and administration reimbursements, totaling $10.577 million. We have identified the adjustments to address this, including eliminating 20 funded positions in various departments, scaling back underutilized programs and reducing funds to mitigate the impact of federal sequestration based on updated information.
It is critical to note that we have achieved this balanced budget without requiring additional concessions from our employees. However, we must continue the current 5 percent employee contribution toward group health and previous concessions. The impact to the general fund of these is $37 million — without which we would experience significant service impacts and more layoffs. Furthermore, we will be negotiating new contracts with all 10 of our unions to secure additional savings to avoid future layoffs and service impacts.
Since becoming mayor, my administration has been working hard to eliminate bureaucratic waste. In fact, my first two budgets reduced the combined operating tax rate by over 16 percent and eliminated 1,891 positions. In doing so, we have reorganized and innovated the way we do business and deliver services — maximizing your hard-earned tax dollars. We are using technology to our full advantage, such as providing at our parks community access to computers, Wi-Fi and training.
I am most proud that we are responsibly meeting the complex and diverse needs of our 2.5 million residents — from serving more than 300,000 meals to seniors in need, running afterschool and senior programs in our parks and keeping at-risk youth out of our criminal system to providing clean water, transit, safe streets, and protecting our citizens and the environment. In the process, we have established a sustainable budget that will guide the county forward this year and beyond.
Carlos Gimenez is the mayor of Miami-Dade County.