On Tuesday, only an hour after the citys chief financial officer said he had found enough money in the citys proposed 2014 spending plan to hire an additional 10 cops, the police union president fired back, saying crime was up because officers are fleeing the city looking for higher pay and beefier benefits.
Two days before Miamis final budget hearing, the battle over hiring more cops versus restoring lost benefits only intensified.
We have to respond to the people. We will be able to show the police department is growing, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said while attending a graduation ceremony at the citys police college Tuesday.
As the event was taking place, Fraternal Order of Police President Javier Ortiz was in front of a television camera outside the building.
A short while later he issued a one-page statement with this offering: Retaining your current police force by resolving their benefits and being competitive to hire the best is the solution.
The single remaining fight over the administrations $524 million spending plan for 2014 is how to redistribute money to the police department and where it should be spent: Coconut Grove homeowners, concerned over an uptick in burglaries, want $10 million to hire 100 more cops. Officers, who have suffered from four years of salary and benefit cuts that in some cases lowered their overall compensation by 20 percent or more, want $6.5 million to restore some of the losses.
The fight has grown so intense that Ortiz, while fighting for restored benefits, helped produce Internet videos mocking the department and warning potential hires to stay away. Grove residents worried about crime even though the overall crime rate in the Grove is down slightly from a year ago have sent out frightening emails and have flooded City Halls chambers demanding more officers.
Two weeks ago during the citys first budget hearing, chief financial officer and Acting City Manager Daniel Alfonso warned there wasnt much to carve out of the bare-bones budget for either raises or new hires, and that any significant redirection of money could result in service or personnel cuts.
Miami police officers are at the lower end of the pay scale compared to other agencies in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The city is also well below the 1,144 officers it has budgeted for, and also has a lower police-to-residents ratio than many other U.S. cities of similar size. The city is also facing the loss of more than 250 officers in an early retirement program by 2017.
At the citys first budget hearing, commissioners tentatively approved the spending plan on a split vote. They told Alfonso to find a way to redistribute money and return with a new plan Thursday. Commissioners Michelle Spence-Jones, Wifredo Willy Gort and Frank Carollo voted in favor of the budget. Commission Chair Marc Sarnoff and Francis Suarez voted against.
Sarnoff and Suarez want more cops; Spence-Jones and Gort said the way to entice new recruits is to restore lost benefits.
The budget vote, which must be ratified Thursday, means homeowners will pay a property tax rate of $8.43 for every $1,000 of property, a slight decrease from this year. That represents a savings of $8 for the owner of a $200,000 home without a homestead exemption. After four years of cuts, the proposed 2014 spending plan leaves most departments with budgets similar to a year ago