With a shortfall of $3 million projected for next year’s budget, North Miami Beach council members will once again consider outsourcing their sanitation and recycling services, a controversial proposal that has been vetted by three city managers and a multitude of senior city officials, and that has cost the city $50,000 dollars for an independent review.
The proposal from Waste Pro of Florida, a waste removal industry giant with over 165 municipal contracts, including for the cities of Hollywood, North Miami, Pembroke Park and most recently Biscayne Park, would save North Miami Beach $2 million a year.
In a letter to the council, City Manager Ana Garcia assured that “no employees would lose their jobs.” Eleven of the 21 current employees would be diverted to work on the city’s new Beautification Initiative, on projects such as litter control, graffiti removal, citywide pressure cleaning and street sweeping, and removal of palm fronds and shopping carts.
“I’m never going to offer an option to reduce services. Our professional staff has gone over these numbers with a fine-tooth comb. We don't want the city to be in the same predicament that it was in 2011,” said City Manager Ana Garcia.
About a year and half ago, a review by Kessler Consulting Inc. found that the city would have to cut services and lay off 21 employees — and would still need to spend an additional $711,514 if it didn’t privatize.
In 2011, 31 people were laid off, including 17 police officers. This year’s revenues are down more than $19 million since 2009, according to the city’s finance department. In addition, the $2.2 million in grant money is no longer available to pay police salaries. So the city is using the savings accrued from previous years to balance the current budget.
“Property taxes bring in $10.6 million and that doesn’t even cover half the cost for our police. Public safety expenditures alone are $18.7 million,” said Janette Smith, the city’s finance director.
The stakes are high for the city and the new city manager, who is leading the latest effort to streamline in-house services.
At last month’s council meeting, more than half of the dozen public speakers raised doubts about the city’s numbers. In an email circulated to city officials, the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office and the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, resident and blogger Mubarak Kazan accused the finance department of fabricating the numbers.
Last week, moments after the swearing in of Jose Smith, the new city attorney, Mayor George Vallejo didn’t waste any time in requesting a formal investigation into Kazan’s accusations.
“If in fact, something is being done wrong, we need to look into that. And if something is not being done wrong, someone making a bunch of false accusations, they need to be called out on,” said Vallejo.
Smith said he would investigate the charges with the city manager and the police chief.
“I know oftentimes people make allegations. I think it’s important to address those allegations formally and not have fear of complaining about wrongdoing,” said Smith.
Added City Manager Garcia: “I know change is difficult. These are growing pains for the city and I have met with Mr. Kazan for two hours to answer his questions but overall this plan will help the residents.”
Initially, residents should not expect to see a change in their services, which includes: twice-a-week garbage pickup, once a month bulk pickup and twice-weekly recycling. Fees are negotiated to stay the same for the first three years and increase by 3 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, in later years.
The next council meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. June 17 on the second floor of the North Miami Beach City Hall, 17011 NE 19th Ave.