Two days before the new fiscal year was set to begin, Opa-locka finalized, balanced and approved its operating fund – marking the first time in more than four years the city has passed a budget without needing to borrow money.
“We’re excited about entering into a new era here with a balanced budget,” said City Manager Steve Shiver, emphasizing that no services were cut. “Our police is intact and in force. Our public works in new and more efficient. Our parks and rec is lean, but I’ll tell you they’re very mean.”
The commission unanimously approved a $13 million operating budget that eliminated 30 city jobs (19 filled and 11 vacant), merged code enforcement with the police department and looked to outsource public work’s fleet management.
Although the budget passed, Commissioner Luis Santiago suggested the city needed to be careful with the new changes.
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“We have to be sure that these changes aren’t going to cause more for our taxpayers,” said Santiago, focused primarily on outsourcing fleet management. “We have to be sure that if you do that, we’re saving money. In the past we did it and we had to come back again and bring everything in house.”
Shiver disagreed. He didn’t believe having a full-service automobile shop was in the city’s best interest and that outsourcing will help them “manage the fleet well.’’
While no one else questioned the plan for outsourcing, Commissioner Joseph Kelley did ask if the cuts were made fairly. After Shiver assured him they were, Kelley took issue with his re-establishment of the city's community empowerment team in the police department.
"With your push to improve things to code, I don't see how they can develop and have time to deal with the CET program," Kelley said. "That's the only social service arm that we have in the city."
Of the program, he added, the residents need to have a comfort level with whom they are dealing. The city manager’s office and the police chief, however, said they had confidence in the new structure. Since the CET was eliminated, Parks and Recreation staffing have provided services in the interim.
To ensure that CET would continue to be available for residents, Kelley amended the budget and redistributed $21,000 of special event money to hold up the program until it could find new funding. The amendment passed unanimously.
The budget also reorganized the police department. The department’s new administration, which will include an assistant chief, will be announced later in October. The city’s remaining employees will also see a restoration of their payroll, which was cut two months ago to offset the city’s then-budget deficit.
“Passing this budget is hurtful for me,” Commissioner Terence Pinder said. “Seven months ago, we always say we didn’t know, but we knew. This didn’t just start happening. This is the most hurtful time that I’ve ever experienced in the last nine years.”