A Miami-Dade judge has ruled in favor of Sweetwater Mayor Orlando Lopez in his dispute with city commission members and ordered the city to continue operating with the tentative budget that Lopez had drafted.
Circuit Judge Barbara Areces ruled that the budget approved by the commission members in September was not balanced and therefore did not meet legal municipal or state requirements.
“The final budget includes $2 million in revenue from the sale of a municipal plot of land, even though the evidence shows that those funds are not on hand,” Areces wrote in a ruling published Sunday.
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The land sale must be approved by Sweetwater residents in a referendum set for August. The property, near Dolphin Mall, is also collateral on a debt to Regions Bank that the city did not pay on time. The city also owes more than $600,000 for bonds issued to buy the land.
Areces also ruled that commissioners do not have the authority to withhold the salaries of administrative employees hired by the mayor. The city of Sweetwater is on the edge of bankruptcy.
The judge ordered the municipality to continue operating under the tentative budget proposed by Lopez in September while the commissioners approve amendments to balance the official budget.
Areces’ ruling could put an end to the political battle that has been fought in the courts for the past six months and cost the city thousands of dollars in attorney's fees.
Lopez has said Sweetwater is already in a financial crisis and has requested an intervention by the state government, which has been denied so far.