Miami-Dade County commissioners signed off on a $6.3 billion budget for 2013-14 shortly after midnight Friday, keeping their fingers crossed that the government will qualify for a federal grant that would help avert firefighter layoffs and the elimination of fire trucks.
Despite firefighters appeals that Mayor Carlos Gimenezs administration tap countywide emergency reserves to save three trucks and prevent 59 pink slips, commissioners said they will instead hold out hope that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security awards the Miami-Dade fire-rescue department a two-year, $5.9 million grant to plug the budget hole.
If the grant doesnt come through next month, Commissioner Dennis Moss noted the county could still consider raiding the reserves. He called the spending plan, approved after a tumultuous two months of administrative changes and citizen protests, a budget we can live with.
Everybodys not happy with this, he conceded.
Commissioners found a way to keep the fire departments venom-response unit intact by agreeing that the service is provided across the county, not just to areas that do not have city fire services. As a result, Miami-Dade will pay for most of the $641,000-a-year unit out of the countys general fund.
The money will come from another decision reached by commissioners late Thursday: to revise the countys policy of complying with federal immigration authorities request to keep foreign nationals in detention longer than local police requires. That should save Miami-Dade about $600,000 a year, Gimenez said. Only about $350,000 of that will go toward the venom-response unit.
After a hearing that lasted more than seven hours in which more than 100 people spoke, the commission voted 11-1 for the budget, with Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa, Vice Chairwoman Lynda Bell and Commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Esteban Steve Bovo, Jose Pepe Diaz, Audrey Edmonson, Sally Heyman, Barbara Jordan, Jean Monestime, Dennis Moss, Javier Souto and Xavier Suarez voting in favor.
Moss was absent from the budget vote, though he voted in favor of the tax rate and most other items that must be approved separately.
Commissioner Juan C. Zapata voted against. He said he found some line items unfair to residents who live in unincorporated neighborhoods outside of cities, and he criticized Gimenez for what Zapata called a lack of vision.
The budget is the biggest policy statement we make, Zapata said. I look at this budget, and Im hard-pressed to find the policy.
Edmonson and Monestime opposed the elimination of the five-member countywide office of healthcare planning on the first day of the fiscal year: Oct. 1, the same day as the new federal healthcare law takes effect. Gimenez said the cut was a last resort to fill in the budget gap, but the county will continue looking for ways to assist the public in navigating the new law.
As mayor of Miami-Dade County, I occupy a non-partisan seat, said Gimenez, a Republican, obliquely referring to criticism from the countys Democratic Party about the elimination of the office.
Under the flat property-tax rate commissioners approved last week, a homeowner with a taxable property value of $200,000 living in an unincorporated neighborhood such as Kendall would pay $27.32 more in county taxes than last year. The increase would be higher if a homes value has gone up more than the 3.39 percent county average. County taxes make up only a portion of the total property-tax bill.