Miami-Dade County

In budget squeeze, Miami-Dade cuts jobs

Miami-Dade County government has laid off some workers as it grapples with a property-tax squeeze.

Twenty-one people have lost their jobs in the past two months, according to a monthly report Mayor Carlos Gimenez sent late Thursday to county commissioners.

The pink slips affected workers in five of 26 departments, including audit and management, community information and outreach, and police support personnel.

The cutbacks “will result in a reduced number of audits, affect internal controls, and lessen maintenance and support of personnel and facility resources,” Gimenez said. “Existing staff will be absorbing more work.”

Miami-Dade has more than 25,000 employees. Sixty-eight vacant jobs across the county have also been eliminated in the past few months.

The local public sector remains the number one anchor to an employment rebound in Miami-Dade, with payroll positions off about 5,000 from the prior year’s level.

In addition to the job losses, the county will eliminate two of four budgeted classes of new police officers. The mayor said that the decision would have little effect on services because the department is restructuring to put more officers on street patrols from specialized investigative units.

An hour each weekday of 311 telephone assistance service will also be slashed, to 7 a.m to 7 p.m., from the current 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Grass-cutting and other grounds upkeep on county parks and road medians will be reduced during the dry season.

The cuts are a result of a decrease in tax revenue because adjustments for property owners who disputed their assessments have been processed more quickly. In all, taxes have come in $44 million short for fiscal year 2013-14, which began Oct. 1. Miami-Dade has a $4.4 billion operating budget.

The $44 million shortfall is just for county government. Other municipalities and agencies have been affected as well. Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho warned in February that his district could fall $60 million short.

Miami-Dade had a backlog of property-tax appeals that has been speeding up since the tax collector’s office switched to an electronic system.

For Gimenez’s administration, the reduction has come on top of commissioners’ decision last month to eliminate a pay concession from most employees.

That action has yet to result in layoffs or significant cuts. Instead, the budget office tapped some money from a health-insurance fund, as commissioners requested — though not as much as they wanted — and will keep a close eye on the savings account every month, Gimenez’s memo says. Once it hits a level it considers too low, then additional cuts may be required from payroll and services.

Next year, the county faces a more than $200 million shortfall, according to the mayor. He has asked department directors to identify ways to save money, ranging from outsourcing to restructuring healthcare to reassessing essential services.

Still, Gimenez wrote that he does not plan to recommend a property-tax rate hike for the coming year.

“Short of any public referendum approving additional taxes, I will not recommend any tax rate increase for FY 2014-15,” he said.

At last month’s library task force meeting, Gimenez suggested holding a straw poll this summer to have voters endorse raising the tax that funds public libraries.

Miami Herald staff writer Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.

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