In the end, the $6.3 billion budget that will carry Miami-Dade County into the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 avoided causing much of the hurt residents had feared. But the relief might be only temporary.
Commissioners approved the 2013-14 budget after midnight Friday, hoping the county will qualify for a federal grant to avert firefighter layoffs and the elimination of fire trucks.
If the U.S. Department of Homeland Security fails to award the fire-rescue department the two-year, $5.9 million grant next month, the commission will have to weigh issuing pink slips to 59 of its 2,060 firefighters and shutting down three of 139 trucks or tapping emergency reserves to make the department whole.
“Everybody’s not happy with this,” Commissioner Dennis Moss conceded before the late-night budget vote, which came after firefighters and their supporters asked the board to reconsider axing services.
Moss called the budget a compromise “we can live with” after two months of heartburn over potential cuts. Last week, commissioners depleted the library department’s reserves to avert widespread layoffs and the reduction of library hours.
Next month, however, commissioners could face the difficult task of further raiding reserves — a move opposed by Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who says Miami-Dade’s rainy-day fund is short as it is — or signing off on the fire cuts. Those cuts could be steeper than have been suggested, since the fire department will be carrying additional personnel expenses it cannot afford into the new fiscal year.
The budget picture won’t get any rosier in 2014. Seven of 10 collective-bargaining units are expected to reach an impasse in January over a concession that requires employees to contribute 5 percent of their base pay toward group healthcare costs. The contribution, imposed almost four years ago, was scheduled to end Jan. 1, but Gimenez insists the county cannot afford to restore nearly 26,000 employees’ pay.
With commissioners earlier this week upholding their decision to restore the pay for sanitation and aviation workers, Gimenez on Thursday advised that doing the same for every other union could result in layoffs early next year.
“That’s not idle talk. That is reality,” he said. “I know that this hasn’t been an easy time for many of our employees, but a lot of our residents are struggling as well.”
But that issue took a back seat at the budget hearing that began Thursday and lasted more than seven hours, as more than 100 people took turns urging commissioners to fund — or defund — certain services. By flat property-tax rate for the coming year means the average Miami-Dade homeowner will pay slightly more in taxes due to a rise in property values countywide.
Commissioners found a way to keep the fire department’s 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 county’s general fund.
The funding will come from another decision reached by commissioners late Thursday: to Sundo he county’s 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.