After years of painful austerity, Miami-Dade County appears to be turning a financial corner. For the first time in a handful of years, there’s breathing room in the county’s proposed 2015-2016 budget. Hallelujah!
Many county departments and services squeezed in past years — parks, libraries, animal services — are seeing spending increases, a little something extra for them in this year’s $6.8 billion budget.
Without increasing property taxes, the mayor’s budget expands library service to six days; mows the grass more often in parks and along roadsides; floats a second fire boat on Biscayne Bay; and hires more police and corrections officers. Oh, and there will be raises for non-union employees.
Credit for the encouraging financial landscape should go to Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who steered the county through difficult financial times — not without causing some unnecessary dyspepsia sometimes. Still, it’s an accomplishment that will likely become the centerpiece of his reelection campaign in 2016, and rightly so.
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After last year’s “worse-case scenario” budget that called for fewer police officers, library closures and less of everything, the mayor proudly presented his enhanced budget to the Editorial Board on Thursday. “And things could improve,” he said of the current financial windfall. “This is where we stand right now.”
Not a bad a place to be.
The mayor and his financial staff have crafted a budget that addresses past deficiencies that angered many residents. Under this budget, the public hearings set for September likely will inspire less public outcry.
Why the rosy outlook this year? It’s simple math — there’s just more money to go around thanks to about $120 million more in property-tax revenue, the blessing of a rebounding real-estate market and fine-tuning at the property appraiser’s office.
This budget is tailor-made to correct past wrongs and address hot county topics, like helping improve transportation and our daily commutes. An analysis by the Miami Herald identifies the big budget winners:
As the presidential election nears, Mr. Gimenez is smartly giving the Elections Department a whopping 52-percent spending increase. The mayor also wants to open 21 new voting sites and 10 more early-voting locations throughout the county.
The Pérez Art Museum Miami could see a 38-percent increase — an extra $1 million in the plan atop the $2.6 million hotel-tax subsidy.
Miami-Dade’s homeless board has a proposed 21-percent bump in spending. That’s mainly thanks to a projected $7 million increase in federal grants.
The mayor is throwing in other perks: $500,000 for meals for the elderly; new fire department vehicles; body cameras for county police officers and money to update the traffic signals, one of several transportation improvements proposed.
And the county will soon begin to return to the Citizens’ Independent Transportation Trust millions in half-cent surtax money borrowed during the economic downturn. It’s also especially heartening to see funding for the Underline included, because it’s another way to enhance how people get around.
Best of all, there’s still $5 million to put away into the county’s rainy-day budget. Another smart move. After all, just because we have the money doesn’t mean we should spend it.
With his proposed budget, Mr. Gimenez earns high marks for sharing the county’s riches.