Miami Lakes’ budget just took a hit: the town’s insurance company has raised its rates by $50,000 a year.
The rate hike is the result of the town’s ongoing legal drama involving Mayor Michael Pizzi that flared up about two years ago.
“We were also notified that there is an increase in Public Officials Insurance of $50K due to the current events,” said a Sept. 17 email sent by Town Manager Alex Rey to the mayor, council and other officials. “The Public Officials & Employment Practices policy increased from $28,463 to $78,472.”
In addition, the insurance company will reimburse the town for about $56,000 to pay Pizzi back for his time away from office.
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The town plans to use the reimbursement money to pay increase in insurance costs, and since it’s a recurring hike, Rey expects it to impact the budget in future years.
Last month, Pizzi filed two lawsuits demanding the town pay roughly $3.2 million to cover his legal fees associated with his federal criminal case and reinstatement.
The mayor won the criminal case in August 2014, and his reinstatement case in April, and now his legal team is in talks with the town’s insurance company over the bills.
In an interview with the Miami Herald, Rey said the insurance rate increase is not as a result of taking the money for the reimbursement, but due to “the risk and exposure they have now.”
Pizzi doesn’t agree.
“The current events weren’t generated by me, it was the city trying to keep me out of office,” he said. “The only money that has paid out so far is to [former Mayor Wayne] Slaton’s lawyers and [Town Attorney Raul] Gastesi.”
Pizzi is referring to the $487,768 the town paid to cover the its costs of the legal battle for reinstatement, which came from money recovered from an audit.
This news doesn’t please some council members as Miami Lakes is working with the tight budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
“It’s outright disappointing,” Councilman Tony Lama said. “The taxpayers deserve more than this.”
Miami Lakes’ 2015-16 budget will not include new beautification projects, capital improvements in the parks — other than projects already in construction — and additional policing.
The town’s committee members are currently in the midst of working with Rey to determine which programs they will be able to fund.
“Overall you have to judge the budget on its totality,” Pizzi said. “I’m happy that compared to most cities we have low taxes and were in financial health.”
But some good news is on the horizon for Miami Lakes: Miami-Dade County Commissioner Esteban Bovo Jr. has agreed to pay $15,000 to keep senior programs running for the next six months.
Over the summer, when Gov. Rick Scott vetoed spending more state money on senior programs in Miami Lakes, the town council has been searching for ways to restart the adult classes.
“I feel that this is a critical program for the seniors of Miami Lakes that had its funding removed in Tallahassee,” Bovo said in an emailed statement. “Our allocation, which covers [six] months, allows for the Town Administration to prepare their efforts for the next legislative session in January and request funding without interrupting the current services. I feel it makes sense to use district funds to support this program that is vital to so many residents in District 13.”