Miami commissioners finished off a contentious budget session late Thursday night, voting unanimously to put more cops on the streets and giving the acting city manager some much needed leverage to restore some lost benefits to officers.
In the end, shortly after 10 p.m., and more than four hours after the debate began, commissioners cemented a $524 million spending plan for 2014 that promises 95 additional officers by April, and gave acting City Manager Daniel Alfonso $2 million to use during contract negotiations with the city’s police union.
The deal was reached after commissioners agreed to a recommendation from Alfonso to move more than $1.5 million from various departments into police coffers, and after they decided to raid a surplus reserve of $2 million that will ultimately go toward restoring salary and benefits drained from officers’ pay during lean budget years.
Though the plan was slightly altered from Mayor Tomás Regalado’s original proposal and calls for using $1.4 million in non-recurring revenue, the mayor said he was satisfied.
“I’m a little concerned about the reserve,” said Regalado. “But this is for a very good cause. We’re going to have 95 officers patrolling the streets within a year and the people will be safer.”
Alfonso warned commissioners he could be back for a mid-year adjustment if the negotiations with unions don’t go smoothly.
Still, the unanimous vote meant residents’ demands for more officers were mostly met, and the city’s police force will jump from about 1,110 to more than 1,200.
The five-member commission was responding to cries for more cops from frustrated Coconut Grove homeowners, who have seen a rise in burglaries, especially in the Grove’s south end. The commissioners were also attempting to satisfy police officers who have seen their compensation drop by more than 20 percent in some cases.
“Every element of the city breaks down if there is a security concern,” South Grove resident Fernand Amandi, who has led the charge for more cops, told commissioners.
Officer Tom Vokaty, a 29-year veteran who said his total compensation has dropped by more than 22 percent, also addressed the commission.
“I ask that you restore benefits before you hire,” he said. “I ask that you take care of us — do what’s right.”
In the end, commissioners voted on a budget that for the first time in five years, will not have to slash department budgets or cut services to residents. Most departmental budgets remained intact from 2013. The new budget goes into effect Oct. 1.
The spending plan adds millions to the city’s reserves, to bring it up to $57 million. It increases the police department’s budget by $9 million, to $167.3 million, and keeps the fire department’s budget relatively intact at $99.6 million.
It also slightly lowers the property-tax rate to $8.43 for every $1,000 of taxable property, a savings of $8 for the owner of a $200,000 home without a homestead exemption.
Unlike the first budget hearing two weeks ago, the City Hall chamber wasn’t packed with residents and cops in a raucous mood. Only about a dozen or so speakers took to the podium Thursday in just under an hour.
Pernerva Curry, of Model City, wanted to know why her property value and tax bill keep dropping. She said the lack of money is at the heart of the city’s problems.