A coalition of activists had targeted Bell for a recall drive as one of eight commissioners who voted in July to keep the property-tax rate flat. She struck a defiant tone from the dais, telling animal advocates behind the recall effort that she will continue to back their causes “even if I’m going to serve my term under a threat of recall for doing what’s right.”
Several commissioners rebuked the activists. Moss asked the groups to stop their effort.
Wednesday afternoon, the pro-labor Miami Economic Sustainability Alliance, one of the groups behind the recall, said it would hold off on the drive to see if library and fire services are maintained in the final budget.
“Our participation in the recall effort is all about protecting basic services, to the community,” said Fred Frost, the group’s vice president.
Before commissioners agreed to dip into the reserves, they seriously considered raising the tax rate that funds libraries, in what would have been a stunning reversal of their July decision to hold the rate steady.
Seven commissioners appeared ready to sign off on the hike. But fearing a likely veto by Gimenez that they would have been unable to override without a nine-member super-majority, they opted to use the reserves instead.
Even before the compromise, Gimenez had said he was confident his staff would find a way to keep libraries open for the same number of hours they currently operate. But he wouldn’t have been able to save library workers’ jobs.
Planning for the libraries’ future will be a significant undertaking for Gimenez, who, when he took office two years ago, first proposed to close 13 branches. That idea was shelved after drawing backlash from commissioners.
The library department has since been dependent on surplus funds from prior years, leading to an inevitable crisis when that money ran out. The county should have been prepared, activists contended Tuesday.
Gimenez’s working group is still being configured, but the mayor has said he wants to consider doing away with the tax district that requires libraries to be funded from taxes separate from the general fund. That would require reaching an agreement with cities with their own municipal libraries, such as Hialeah, whose residents do not pay for the county system.
While folding the standalone taxing district into the general fund could make it easier to plug future library budget holes, some activists have said they fear library dollars could also be diverted to other departments more easily.
Gimenez also said the county should take a closer look at Miami-Dade’s job qualifications and salaries for librarians, who are required to have a master’s degree and make an average annual base salary of $70,300, excluding benefits. His administration must sit down with labor unions next year to renegotiate employee contracts.
Separately, Gimenez said he has asked the county auditor to examine whether nearly $7.5 million moved from the library budget in 2009 to fund cultural programs inside the library tax district was improperly spent.
If so, Gimenez said his administration would develop a repayment plan over several future years to put the money back in the library budget from the general fund.