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Gimenez to unions: Miami-Dade faces $50-million-plus budget shortfall

Miami-Dade County faces a $50 million-plus budget shortfall under current projections, Mayor Carlos Gimenez warned commissioners this week after informing employee unions that the county will ask for a continuation of significant benefit concessions.

Gimenez’s administration is requesting that, for another year, workers continue to contribute 5 percent of their base pay toward the cost of health insurance, among other concessions particular to each union.

Extending the contribution requires the county to return to the bargaining table with most of its bargaining units. The mayor had said he would try to eliminate the contribution this year, and the contracts, negotiated for a three-year period, provide for reopening certain agreement provisions if the contribution is to continue past Jan. 1, 2014.

“I have directed staff to being scheduling negotiation sessions with all of [the] unions in order to come to a consensus on the terms of the agreements as soon as possible since, as per the existing contract language, there is a time window of time allotted for negotiations,” Gimenez wrote commissioners Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, the mayor made a presentation to union leaders outlining the $50.7 million general-fund budget gap. There is also a $15 million projected shortfall in the county’s fire-rescue budget and a $15 million shortfall in its library budget. Both fire rescue and the library are funded by property taxes separate from the general fund.

Doing away with the 5 percent healthcare contribution from employees would increase the general-fund hole by $33.5 million to a total of $84.2 million, Gimenez said in a memo, if the county wants to maintain the same level of public services.

Miami-Dade expects to see an increase in its revenues, largely from an estimated 3.5- percent rise in property values that would bring in an additional $33.3 million in property-tax dollars, which fund the lion’s share of the budget.

But the county also faces higher expenses from pension obligations, rising healthcare costs, paying merit-based employee salary increases and plugging a hole left by one-time money used last year to fund some parks expenses. Gimenez’s projection assumes a 10 percent increase in healthcare costs, for example.

As a result, Gimenez’s administration will negotiate with most of Miami-Dade’s bargaining units through July to keep the healthcare contribution and other concessions from expiring next year. The firefighters union, which has its own healthcare plan, would be exempt.

If the county and unions can’t reach an agreement, any pending items at impasse would go to county commissioners for a decision.

For now, Gimenez’s early budget projections envision an 8 percent hike in water-and-sewer rates to fund the beginning of major, federally mandated upgrades to the county’s antiquated pipes. Transit fares would go up 25 cents in accordance with the consumer-price index, as stipulated by county ordinance.

Among the other fees expected to rise: fire inspections for businesses, and landing fees for airlines at the county-owned Miami International Airport.

Elsewhere in the budget, the administration expects to make a significant investment in election equipment, following long lines and slow ballot counting that embarrassed Miami-Dade during last year’s general election. Gimenez’s memo did not specify how much the county would spend this year.

Earlier this year, a report from a task force found that replacing the elections department’s absentee-ballot sorter would cost about $1.2 million, and purchasing electronic voter-registry machines for all precincts would cost $1.6 million.