Two weeks before Christmas, three Opa-locka commissioners approved $500 holiday bonuses for all city employees.
The problem for the cash-strapped city was that they couldn’t afford to spend the non-budgeted $125,000 needed to give out the extra money, according to City Manager Kelvin Baker.
The day of the meeting, Dec. 10, Baker sent a memo stating that the city couldn’t afford to pay for the bonuses, but the commission continued with the item anyway.
“If this request is granted the possibility of furloughs or layoffs in the new year will be a reality,” the memo said.
Now the city is working to figure out how it will offset the costs. Commissioners also recently approved spending $15,000 to hire legal counsel for two commissioners.
Assistant City Manager David Chiverton said there are currently no plans to fire any employees or to bring back furloughs for employee. He said the city will seek other funding options mostly through collecting money owed to the city. In past budgets, Baker said the city would seek money owed due to code enforcement violations and unpaid liens.
“If it comes to the shortfall being that significant, then the manager would have to talk with the commission as to what approach is needed to balance the budget,” Chiverton said.
At the December meeting, some residents, including Alvin Burke, said they supported giving some help to the employees, but only if it was financially feasible.
“If y’all go ahead and do this and then sometime next year the employees have to start worrying about layoffs and furloughs it does not make sense,” Burke said at the meeting.
“I’m sure they would rather have their jobs than $500 for Christmas.”
On March 26, 2014, the city commission approved an end to furlough days that had been put in place in the 2013-14 city budget.
In April 2014, the city approved a loan program, through the BMG Money program LoansAtWork, designed to give employees an option for emergency expenses and medical procedures.
And as the city finalized its 2014-15 budget, it eliminated furloughs following an hour-long break to figure out how the budget could remain intact. City staff elected to lay off 12 temporary employees, take $100,000 from the city’s reserves and cut back spending on advertising and special events.