Miami-Dade mayor’s proposed budget cuts police, parks, libraries

07/08/2014 12:19 PM

07/09/2014 5:47 PM

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez on Tuesday proposed a county budget for next year that, to avoid a property-tax rate hike, would eliminate hundreds of police jobs, close a golf course, trim hours at Zoo Miami, and raise Metrorail and Metrobus fares for the second year in a row.

Public libraries would remain open — but with far fewer full-time librarians. Two successful programs to help youth offenders would be scrapped. Subsidies for community-based organizations that provide social services would get a 10 percent cut.

To close a $64 million budget deficit, 674 positions would be eliminated across county government, which has a work force of about 25,000. Because many of the jobs are already vacant, it’s likely that the number of actual pink slips would be smaller.

The tax rate set each year by county commissioners would remain flat under Gimenez’s 2014-15 proposal. A separate portion of taxes that pays for voter-approved construction projects would go up 6 percent, thanks largely to last year’s $830 million bond referendum for the Jackson Health System.

A homeowner in an unincorporated neighborhood such as Kendall with a taxable property value of $200,000 would pay an additional $5.34 in county taxes, which are only part of a total tax bill. That’s without taking into account any increase in property values, which rose by an average of 6.8 percent in Miami-Dade this year.

Not all properties are subject to the same county taxes, since some cities provide their own library and fire services. Those that rely on county libraries — the majority of homeowners — will be paying a higher portion of their taxes toward the library district. Taxes for countywide services and the fire department are going down to allow for a 38 percent increase in the library’s relatively small tax.

Gimenez’s proposal assumes his administration won’t reach any deals with labor unions over temporary pay and benefit concessions workers gave up three years ago that the mayor wants to make permanent. Without new contracts, about $40 million in benefits are scheduled to “snap back” to employees Oct. 1.

The proposed layoffs set up another battle between Gimenez and the county’s unions, since he’s portraying the service cuts as avoidable if employees agree to less compensation. “You can buy certain things back with concessions you get from labor,” Gimenez said in an interview before the budget’s unveiling.

If unions extend the concessions and agree to the mayor’s request for a 15 percent reduction in healthcare costs, he said, “you get all of your cops back. You can save some programs in corrections and parks.”

Commissioners are scheduled to vote next week on the maximum property-tax rate. A final budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 won’t be approved until September.

“We will not increase the burden on our residents through higher taxes,” Gimenez said when he unveiled the three-volume budget. “We will not govern from budget crisis to budget crisis.”

The mayor’s budget totals about $6.2 billion, down from $6.3 billion last year, driven by a 15 percent reduction in construction spending. The proposed capital budget, which comes mostly from borrowed funds, is down to $1.7 billion from $1.9 billion because a number of large projects, such as the Port Tunnel and the Pérez Art Museum Miami, have been completed.

The proposed operating budget for day-to-day expenses for the nation’s seventh-largest county is $4.5 billion, about 3 percent higher than last year’s $4.4 billion.

Gimenez’s budget lists a slight increase in overall debt payments for Miami-Dade, which are slated to hit $1 billion, up from just under $980 million this year.

While Gimenez touted a budget that doesn’t rely on surplus cash and reserves to eliminate deficits, the mayor is counting on one-time savings to avoid further cuts or higher taxes. A tentative deal he struck with Miami Beach would delay an $18 million payment due next year, and he wants to suspend $5.8 million in automatic increases in county transit operations until 2016. The budget’s five-year forecast shows deficits from 2016 on, with an overall gap of $30 million through 2019.

Police, the largest department in Miami-Dade, absorbs the biggest job cut in Gimenez’s budget, with a proposed loss of 315 positions of the current 4,064. Libraries come in second with a planned reduction of 94 payroll slots, followed by 81 cuts in parks.

The Midwest police district, which is based in Doral, would be closed to do away with its administrative brass; its officers would still cover the area but report to other districts.

Specialized police units, including those in charge of gang, robbery and tactical narcotics investigations, would be reduced. It would take longer for officers to respond to non-emergency calls — 30 minutes instead of 13 minutes budgeted for this year.

John Rivera, head of the county’s law-enforcement union, said the budget would make Miami-Dade more dangerous, and took a jab at a recent deal brokered by Gimenez to use hotel taxes to support a $350 million renovation of Sun Life Stadium.

“You don’t enjoy the safety and security you deserve,” he said of residents. “But you can certainly enjoy a Dolphins game.”

The corrections department would scrap the Boot Camp and “I’m Ready” programs — which, the budget says, “have been recognized as successful models for reducing recidivism rates among youthful offenders.” Gimenez’s administration says those cutbacks would not hinder the department’s ability to comply with improvements required by the U.S. Department of Justice after the federal agency found the county violated inmates’ civil rights.

While no county parks would close, they would be staffed by fewer workers — more of them employed part time — and would receive less landscaping and maintenance. Zoo Miami would open one hour less each weekday and charge $2 more for admission, and one of two 18-hole golf courses at Country Club of Miami would close and be transformed into a park requiring less maintenance.

Transit fares would increase by 25 cents for the second consecutive year, bringing the cost per ride to $2.50. Fares are supposed to go up every other year based on the consumer-price index; this year’s hike would prevent an increase next year, according to Gimenez. Special transit services for the disabled would go up per ride to $5 from $3.50.

Other fees would increase as well. Water bills, which went up 8 percent this year, would go up another 6 percent to fund federally mandated fixes to the county’s dilapidated sewer system. Miami-Dade says the increase would amount to bills going up to $48.11 from $45.39, or $2.72 more per month. Additional 5 percent increases are planned for the following two years.

The county’s animal shelter would begin charging for a number of services that are currently free, with the standard dog vaccination package jumping from complimentary to $35.

Elsewhere in the budget, the public works department would cut back on sidewalk and road sign repairs, and on removing graffiti. Hours of operation for the county’s 311 telephone assistance service would be slashed to Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., without weekend service. The system currently operates from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

Gimenez’s budget would still mean cuts for the library district. Taxes would generate enough for a $45 million library budget — less than the current budget of $50 million and well short of the $55 million administrators said they needed to preserve current staffing and service levels.

One public library — the California Club branch — would close because of an expiring lease, and a new one under construction, the Northeast branch, would open. The other 48 existing libraries would stay open, staffed with fewer people and more part-timers. Those scheduling changes will allow eight branches — West Dade, West Kendall, South Dade, North Dade, Miami Beach, Coral Gables, Northeast and Homestead — to start opening on Sundays, when they are now closed.

Library advocates urged commissioners on Tuesday to reject Gimenez’s proposed budget and instead increase the overall tax rate. On the heels of a 2011 tax-cut package in Gimenez’s first year in office, the system has relied on both spending cuts and cash reserves to bridge the gap between revenue and expenses. Library advocates want the tax raised high enough to generate $64 million next year in order to reverse prior cutbacks and expand services.

“The library system is going to take yet another cut in current services,” said Lynn Summers, a leader of the coalition pushing for more library funds. “We are searching for the logic of that recommendation. And frankly we don’t see it.”

An earlier version of this article misstated the potential increase in water bills.

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