The county hopes to save those trucks and firefighters with a two-year grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. However, Miami-Dade likely won’t find out if it has been selected to receive the funding until after the start of the new budget year on Oct. 1.
If the county does not receive the money, it may have to lay off more than 59 firefighters to balance its books after incurring additional personnel expenses into the new fiscal year.
The budget initially proposed also eliminating three rescue trucks and laying off a total of 149 employees. Those units, and their corresponding paramedics, have since been saved.
Rowan Taylor, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1403, said if the federal grant doesn’t come through, the county should further decrease the fees it charges the fire-rescue department for administrative costs — and tap into a portion of countywide contingency reserves contributed by the department. Otherwise, Taylor said, the union might sue.
“That money does not belong in the general fund,” he argued.
A majority of voters recently polled on behalf of the union said they considered fire-rescue services a high or fairly high priority. Respondents also said they opposed service cuts but were not asked about the alternative — a tax-rate hike.
The survey, conducted by political consultant Emiliano Antunez’s Global Mindset Research firm, polled 450 registered voters in English and Spanish on Aug. 2-5. It had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
The shuffling in the library and fire-rescue departments, as well as unforeseen decreases in some revenues to the county, will result in additional reductions in the general fund.
The smaller library and fire departments will require fewer administrative services and pay less rent, The general fund will also have to reimburse more money than expected to the public housing department for administering federal funds. And Miami-Dade will receive less money than projected from utility franchise fees users pay Florida Power & Light.
Taken together, those changes will amount to $10.5 million less coming into county coffers.
To balance the budget, several departments will do away with funded vacant positions. The county attorney’s office will delay hiring. The office of countywide healthcare planning, which assists residents with finding healthcare services, will be eliminated. A cultural grant will be scaled back. Funding for a sports commission will be canceled.
Eight people — from the healthcare planning office, a pothole crew and a NEAT team that fixes problems such as broken street signs — will be laid off.
Looming is another potential issue: Miami-Dade is catching up on refunds owed to residents who have successfully appealed the values of their properties. That will further shrink the budget, but the county won’t know until the end of September by how much its purse will be affected.
For now, the focus will remain on library and fire, with shortened library hours still being worked on. For comparison, libraries will open 1,624 hours next fiscal year, compared to 2,016 hours this year.
Libraries Director Raymond Santiago said it’s better to have more libraries offering less service than closing facilities altogether.
“It’s something to build on, as opposed to trying to start again from scratch,” he said.
One way for the county to have more flexibility in managing the library budget is to dissolve the stand-alone taxing district that funds it and instead fold it into the general fund, Gimenez said. The taxing district had been created so residents of cities with their own municipal libraries, such as Miami Shores, did not have to pay taxes toward the county system.
Miami-Dade will create a community working group to meet with municipalities and envision how county libraries should look in five and 10 years. In addition to the working group, the library department will conduct an operational and fiscal study of its services and those provided by cities.
“We spent the last month talking with all of our cities that we have libraries in, and it’s really been fruitful,” Santiago said. “We need to figure out, ‘How do we keep the conversation going?’”