Miami-Dade County

Zika funds for Wynwood, but no commissioners’ pensions in 2017 Miami budget

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado

Miami commissioners gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a 2017 budget that sets a record for public safety spending and squeezes in emergency recovery funds for hurting Wynwood businesses.

The $979 million operating budget, which will be finalized during a second budget hearing Sept. 20, is also notable for what it doesn’t include, such as pensions for elected officials.

“Today, we’re proposing a responsible budget,” Mayor Tomás Regalado said.

The bulk of the mayor’s spending plan is allocated to a $670 million general fund, up about 34 percent from the first budget Regalado set in 2010 during a national recession. Since then, the city has ridden a building boom and soaring real estate values, expected to allow the city to bring in roughly $31 million in additional property tax revenues next year. The increase would come despite a tax rate that will fall a smidgeon thanks to a reduction in debt service.

All the increased revenue and then some, according to City Manager Daniel Alfonso, will be swallowed up by increased compensation for police and fire rescue. Even so, commissioners directed Alfonso to find money to fund two full-time victims’ advocates, cameras for churches in Overtown and Liberty City, and specific positions in the police department to reach out to young habitual offenders.

They also agreed to give the Wynwood Business Improvement District a three-month break on the cost of increased police and solid waste collection, worth about $247,000. The district plans to spend the savings on special events to attract customers back to the arts haven after a local outbreak of the Zika virus put a major dent in business.

“This would not be an advertising campaign,” Regalado said. “They want to create festivals, block parties and bring people back to Wynwood using that money.”

Along with the last-minute additions, there were 11th-hour reductions in the budget. For instance, in an Aug. 31 memo, Alfonso cut out a proposal to bring back a pension system for Miami’s elected officials.

“There was no political will,” budget director Chris Rose said before Tuesday’s hearing.

Also omitted from the budget: a series of sea-level-rise projects, like pumps and storm water upgrades, and a new police radio communication system for police and fire. Both would have been funded by a $275 million bond initiative rejected in July by commissioners.

Alfonso said the city is evaluating bids for new radios, and he expects to eventually bring forward a plan to finance a new system. As for new pumps and drains, he said the city’s options were limited, and best addressed after the city names a resiliency officer in the coming weeks.

Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado visited Wynwood to convey an important message to the area and the greater public: Wynwood is open for business. At the same time, the Miami Police Department continued to distribute information to tourists, local reside