As commissioners inch closer to the end of Opa-locka’s fiscal year, the city’s financial deficit looms over them like a dark cloud. Latest figures put the deficit close to $1 million, according to city staff members.
As of June 30, the city was under $768,500. And after commissioners passed unbudgeted resolutions at their July 22 meeting, another $200,000 was likely added to that amount, said Opa-locka Finance Director Susan Gooding-Liburd.
The commission, however, isn’t pleased with the estimate.
“We do need real numbers,” Mayor Myra Taylor said at the budget workshop on Thursday. “There’s a hodgepodge of numbers that has made this commission look as if we don’t know what we’re doing.”
But Faye Douglas, the city’s budget administrator who led the city workshop on July 23, didn’t have a definitive number to give.
“I know we just completed the third-quarter financials, but I don’t have that number. It’s because of the delay in instituting some of the recommendations,” Douglas said. “If anything, it has not gone down.”
Instead of fixing the city’s looming gap, she focused on the city’s 2015-16 general budget, which is already said to have a $1.76 million shortage between its planned revenues and expenditures. Douglas also discussed some of the city’s successes, like the purchase of 780 Fisherman St., construction on Cairo Lane and the acquisition of Jackson’s former maternity ward for a new health and wellness facility.
After a 20-minute-long presentation about the city’s proposed budget, Vice Mayor Timothy Holmes brought the focus back to Opa-locka’s deficit.
“I want to know how much money it’ll take to fix the budget this year,” he said. “I need to know. We got to fix this one for this year.”
But of the budget gap, Douglas added: “I don’t have any recommendations to close the gap right now, but we’ll be working with you in the coming weeks.”
Although various recommendations — layoffs, pay cuts, a shortened workweek — have been brought to the dais since the city’s budget gap was identified in April, only a few have been implemented.
“We had the voluntary separation,” Douglas said, adding that nine employees took early retirement. “We’re implementing the salary reductions, and the third part will be the staff reductions. Those things are still coming.”
But before the city could move forward and implement the other suggestions, staff members had to close the window when likely-to-retire city employees could take early separation, which ended on July 17. The wait, however, didn’t help the cost of paying all of Opa-locka’s full-time employees more than what the city can afford.
Douglas did have an answer to fix that.
“The budget can be fixed tomorrow if we cut half the employees. It’s 70 percent employee costs,” Douglass said. “We have about 230 employees, and we need to get it down to 188.”
Commissioners, however, weren’t willing to consider cutting anyone from payroll.
“I believe the problem is spending money unnecessarily,” Commissioner Luis Santiago said. “We’re spending money on something we’re not supposed to spend.”
Since April, the city’s staff has been taking steps to close to deficit, but the process is “just taking time,” Douglas said.