Nearly six weeks after cautioning it could shutter 22 public libraries, Miami-Dade County has found a way to keep all 49 facilities open at least some of the time, offering stripped-down services.
In all, 169 library workers — more than a third of the department’s 461 employees — would lose their jobs by Oct. 1, and libraries would begin to operate about three-quarters of the hours they do now, Mayor Carlos Gimenez informed county commissioners late Friday.
The board is scheduled to meet Monday to discuss the most recent 2013-14 budget projections, following its decision last month to keep the property-tax rate flat despite service cuts and employee layoffs that would follow as a result.
For Gimenez, who was elected to a four-year term last August, the conversation won’t just be about the upcoming budget. He intends to maintain the flat rate for two years, signaling that despite the economy’s slow improvements, Miami-Dade government is unlikely to return to its prior size.
“The sky’s not falling. The world’s not going to end,” Gimenez said in an interview with the Miami Herald. But, he added, “We are going to have to face the facts in future budgets. We are going to spend within our means.”
The county’s 10 employee bargaining units will renegotiate their union contracts next year. Those talks will be marred by Gimenez’s recommendation this year to continue requiring employees to contribute 5 percent of their base pay toward group healthcare costs. The giveback had been scheduled to end in January 2014; the issue is at impasse.
Commissioners, who are scheduled to vote Thursday to resolve the impasse, have asked that employees’ pay be restored. But Gimenez reiterated Friday that he cannot find the $37 million that would be required to restore that and other concessions.
The final budget won’t be approved by the commission until after two public hearings in September.
In a memo to commissioners, Gimenez said the county must consider the library department’s long-term future, including altering its funding structure. Libraries rely on taxes separate from those that go to the county’s general fund.
“To move toward a sustainable library system in the future, we must shift our perspective on how library services in Miami-Dade County are currently funded,” he wrote.
The potential library closures, characterized as the worst-case scenario on July 16, have drawn perhaps the most protests as administrators have slowly whittled down the list of branches on the chopping block. The last four that had been at risk as of two weeks ago — the Country Walk, Sunset and Tamiami branches in West Miami-Dade and the Civic Center kiosk — will now be spared, though advocates have stridently opposed the significant librarian layoffs.
Other areas of Miami-Dade’s sprawling $4.4 billion day-to-day operating budget would also take a hit — including the fire-rescue department, which faces the elimination of three fire trucks and layoffs of 59 firefighters. Among those at risk are 40 new recruits who recently began their full-time jobs. Fire-rescue employs 2,431 people.
No stations would be closed because the three trucks in question reside in stations that have more than one truck apiece. Two fire engines are located in Goulds and North Bay Village. A fire truck with a ladder is in Haulover.