2014 budget

Miami weighs budget plan to add officers, avoid layoffs and service cuts



Miami commissioners, torn between cries from residents for more cops and demands from police for restored compensation, will ponder a recommendation from the city’s top financial officer at Thursday’s final hearing that would move an additional $2.44 million into the police department.

How they spend it is up to them. But if they accept chief financial officer and acting City Manager Daniel Alfonso’s plan, it would mean an additional 10 officers for a department that is understaffed after years of salary and benefit cuts.

“This can be accomplished with minimal risk and disruption” to the city’s recommended 2014 budget, Alfonso wrote in his budget memo before the final hearing.

The new proposal in the mayor’s $523.9 million spending plan for next year would redirect money into the police department from various departments. Among the moves would be $500,000 that had been budgeted for a citywide election runoff in November, $500,000 from a risk management insurance pool and $470,000 the city received from the Ultra Music Festival and the television show Burn Notice that was resting in a rainy day fund.

The weeks leading up to Thursday’s final budget hearing have been filled with the voices of Coconut Grove residents calling for more police, and officers demanding the restoration of lost benefits.

Grove residents want the city to spend $10 million for 100 additional cops, mostly because of a recent flare up of burglaries in the Grove’s south end. Police officers, who in some instances lost 20 percent or more of their compensation during the past four years as the city struggled to fill budget holes, want their salaries and benefits restored.

Miami police are at the bottom tier of the pay scale for agencies throughout Miami-Dade. The city also is also well short of the 1,144 officers it budgeted for this year, and its police-to-population ratios are well behind other cities with similar populations.

At the first budget hearing two weeks ago, commissioners passed Mayor Tomás Regalado’s proposal for next year by a 3-2 vote. Commissioners Michelle Spence-Jones, Wifredo “Willy” Gort, and Frank Carollo voted for the budget. Commissioner Chairman Marc Sarnoff and Commissioner Francis Suarez voted against. Sarnoff and Suarez want more officers. Spence-Jones and Gort believe officers already on the force need to be taken care of before new ones are hired.

The vote locked in a property tax rate of $8.43 for every $1,000 of taxable property, a slight decrease from this year. It means a savings of $8 for the owner of a $200,000 home without a homestead exemption.

After four years of budget shortfalls filled with salary and benefit slashes, Regalado and his staff have pieced together a 2014 spending plan that essentially keeps department budgets flat without job loss or service cuts.

Commissioners ended their session two weeks ago without deciding whether to hire more police officers or restore lost benefits. Instead, commissioners instructed Alfonso to return in two weeks with options on how money could be redirected to police from various departments.

In his final budget memo, Alfonso also offers commissioners another plan — but it would be painful.

The CFO’s $9 million plan to hire 100 more police and restore some lost benefits would also mean 90 layoffs and service cuts to residents. The plan calls for deferring $1.8 million for new equipment for fire rescue, eliminating 30 full-time jobs in the parks department, and taking more than $500,000 from public works that would be used for filling potholes.

Alfonso, however, makes it very clear the plan comes at the request of the commission, and without his endorsement.

“We have also identified $6.58 million of further options, as directed by the commission to a total of $9 million, but are not recommending they be enacted,” wrote Alfonso. “These options would require service reductions, positions eliminated, and likely rollback or layoff actions.”

Commissioners will gather at 9 a.m. Thursday at historic City Hall on Dinner Key in Coconut Grove to go over the city’s regular agenda. That will be followed by the second and final budget hearing scheduled to begin after 5 p.m.

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