Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez on Tuesday unveiled a slimmed-down $6.2-billion budget to run the nation’s seventh most populous county. How to best describe the three-volume spending manifesto in one word? Ouch!
True, the mayor’s budget is down from $6.3 billion last year, which should appease those who believe county government is too fat. The county’s long battles with unions over benefits, concessions, salaries and pensions, along with decades of wasteful spending by the county has led us here — the place where the rubber meets the proverbial road.
There will be no property-tax rate hike for Miami-Dade homeowners. Mayor Gimenez kept his promise. “We will not increase the burden on our residents through higher taxes,” the mayor said. He and his staff filled a $209 million hole with about $64 million remaining to be found.
But here are the painful realities: The county would eliminate 674 jobs out of its 25,000 work-force; many are already vacant or will be reassigned. No library would close, but there would be fewer staff members on duty. Library advocates make a practical case that increasing the millage rate solely for the separately funded library system could restore its $64 million budget.
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Some proposed cuts would affect public safety: Mr. Gimenez wants to eliminate 217 sworn-officer positions, 20 civilians and 50 trainees still in the academy. Specialized police units, targeting gangs, robberies and narcotics would be reduced.
The famed Boot Camp, perennially on the chopping block when money runs out, would likely die this year. What a shame. The program is considered a successful model for reducing recidivism rates among youthful offenders. The corrections department would also eliminate 177 sworn officers and 20 civilians. Click here to see an intercative graphic of the proposed county budget.
Of course, this sounds like the mayor’s opening gambit to pressure balking unions, which have refused to make more concessions to fill the budget hole. Last year, the commission buckled and returned the 5-percent contribution some unions had handed over.
It was a damaging move; however, as the Editorial Board has said before, concessions are not a long-term plan. In a county where elected officials are loath to increase taxes, developing the annual budget has become, unfortunately, a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul affair.
We’ll also be paying more for water, one utility that always seemed undervalued. Water bills would go up 6 percent.
One proposed increase unfairly hits the working poor. That’s the cost of riding Metrobus and Metrorail, or using the handicapped transit services. Under Mr. Gimenez’s budget, transit fares would increase by 25 cents for the second consecutive year, bringing the cost per ride to $2.50. For a daily, two-way fare, that’s an increase of $2.50 a week, $10 a month, about $120 a year. For anyone earning minimum wage, that’s a hit.
Students and seniors already ride at reduced rates or for free, but on the hook will be the blue-collar working class, who can’t afford an automobile and get around on buses and trains.
Special transit services for the disabled would go up to $5 per ride from $3.50. That seems even more misguided. The mayor should rethink these increases.
Tuesday, county commissioners will have to debate and persuade constituents that they have their priorities straight. It’s going to hurt.