We can make ‘worst-case scenario’ county budget less painful

07/12/2014 7:00 PM

07/11/2014 8:41 PM

I want to set the record straight regarding my proposed budget for fiscal year 2014-15. When I was elected mayor, I promised to restore fiscal responsibility to our government and put Miami-Dade County on a sustainable path. For too long, the county has governed from budget crisis to budget crisis, and we have put an end to that.

This proposed budget is a worst-case scenario. Although it maintains the same number of police officers in our communities, it includes painful cuts. My administration will however, continue fighting for a better budget that would be possible with concessions from our labor unions.

The budget I’m ultimately fighting for will not result in major layoffs, eliminates fare increases and funds our community’s shared priorities while making government more efficient without raising overall tax rates.

We have set the foundation for future sustainable budgets. In fact, this is the first budget in a decade that does not rely on one-time revenues to fund operations and the first that presents a five-year forecast of balanced budgets. We keep the overall operating millage flat, even with a shift in millage rates to allow us to keep all libraries open the same number of hours, including new Sunday hours at regional libraries.

Earlier this year, the County Commission overrode my veto and eliminated a 5-percent healthcare contribution that county employees had been making. At that time, I repeatedly warned the commission and the unions that returning this contribution would create large gaps in the current fiscal year, and an even deeper one for our 2014-15 budget.

Adding to that, most of the concessions made by the labor unions are set to expire on Sept 30. And, while we very much appreciate the hard work of these dedicated county employees, many of the union demands are for salaries and benefits that are unsustainable, would require tax increases and may even be better than those in the private sector.

If our ongoing labor negotiations are successful, we could largely avoid cuts and significantly decrease the number of positions that are slated to be eliminated, including the sworn positions in the police department and in our libraries.

This budget reflects the reality that no matter how much we achieve in savings, if unions continue to demand and expect higher wages and benefits, there will be less money to fund our shared priorities. It’s that simple. Instead, we are asking for the unions to place service before self by helping us craft a sustainable budget with reasonable benefits.

The budget process is far from over. In the coming weeks, my staff and I will be meeting with individual commissioners to discuss funding priorities, as well as holding a series of town-hall meetings so that we can hear from residents.

I look forward to continuing to share my vision of Miami-Dade County as a leading global metropolis with vibrant neighborhoods and a diverse and engaged community with a robust and sustainable economy. Despite our challenges, I believe that Miami-Dade’s best days are ahead of it.

Learn more about the county’s budget by visiting www.miamidade.gov/budget.

Carlos Gimenez is Miami-Dade County mayor.

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