Tapping into the real estate boom that keeps on giving, Miami commissioners approved a 2016 budget late Thursday evening that increases spending by $82 million over the current year.
The commission unanimously approved a $940 million operating budget before midnight that boosts police staffing by 60 officers, throws $13 million at the city’s police and fire unions, and sets aside $1 million for each commissioner to spend on capital projects. The budget, despite Mayor Tomás Regalado’s touting of a slightly lower tax rate, largely relies on increasing property tax revenues to fund the new expenses.
Commissioner Frank Carollo suggested the budget set forth a historic level of spending.
“Has the city ever spent this much in its general fund?” he asked City Manager Daniel Alfonso. “I don’t think it has. It’s a huge increase, just in one year.”
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That increase in spending grew by $27 million from the budget Regalado proposed over the summer. In total, the city’s general fund will reach $643 million in 2016, though much of the increased spending will be funded by a surplus from the current year and a bountiful cache of reserves.
“This is, we believe, a budget that works,” Regalado said.
Commissioner’s pushed spending upward over the last two weeks by demanding that the city increase its police force to record levels, north of 1,300 officers. They also added an extra $1 million to an “anti-poverty” fund that has allowed some commissioners to give no-bid grants to non-profits of their choosing, and secured $1 million each for pet capital projects after receiving a similar amount to spend over the last several months.
The budget also allows the city to replace hundreds of police cruisers and cars for its general employees, and purchase two new fire rescue vehicles. As for the city’s employees, Miami’s fire union is expected to sign a tentative agreement for a new contract that increases the city’s spending by about $6 million, leaving another $7 million or so for a new police contract, though that’s far below the offer from the Fraternal Order of Police.
Thursday’s late-night budget hearing followed a marathon meeting with a number of votes that affected next year’s budget. For instance, commissioners agreed during the day to give employees who are not represented by unions a 2.5 percent bonus. The value of those bonuses was placed around $900,000. Commissioners also authorized up to $32 million in expenses on new city fleet vehicles over the next five years, including close to 500 new vehicles in 2016 for police and general employees.
Commissioners also agreed to spend millions on capital projects. Among them: another $4 million for an event space to host the Miami International Boat Show on Virginia Key.