Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue saves three ambulances slated for elimination

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who on Tuesday will hold the first in a series of town hall meetings about next year’s budget, says three county fire-rescue ambulances that were slated to be eliminated for cost savings have been saved.

The Fire Department still faces a $15 million budget deficit, so some firefighters are still likely to get pink slips, the mayor said. But the number could be about half of the 149 positions originally projected for elimination to plug the hole.

“That’s based on the best numbers we have available now,” Fernando Figueredo, the mayor’s communication director, said Monday. “It’s a work in progress.”

Last month, after the mayor’s proposed property tax increase was met with a chorus of groans from the public and county commissioners, he backed-pedaled and proposed a flat tax rate.

The announcement that property owners would not be burdened with a significant property tax increase, however, came with a painful reality: the $15 million gap in fire rescue, and a $20 million hole for the county’s library system.

That meant, according to Gimenez, the elimination of three fire trucks and three emergency transport vehicles, and up to 149 firefighter/paramedics. The three fire trucks remain on the chopping block. He also said 22 of the county’s 49 libraries would close, meaning the loss of about 250 more jobs.

Figueredo said budget crunchers are working to reduce the cutbacks before the county commission holds two September budget hearings and sets tax rates. Under consideration: delaying the purchase of new equipment, transferring employees and getting out of property leases.

The county’s fire-rescue and library operations are funded with taxes separate from the county’s more-than $4 billion operating budget, which means money can’t be shuffled from other areas to backfill their budgets.

Also Monday, Commissioner Javier Souto said he will hold a special meeting on Wednesday of the Cultural Affairs and Recreation Committee, which he chairs, to address the library closings. The mayor said last week that his original plan to close up to 22 facilities has been reduced to 14.

Souto said his office has been swamped with calls since the planned cuts were announced. He favors moving libraries now in leased buildings into county park buildings in order to save rent payments.

“We own a tremendous amount of square footage,” Souto said. “We’re paying rent in shopping centers, we need to eliminate that.”

The proposed cuts drew sharp rebukes from the firefighter’s union, which represents almost 2,000 employees. Union President Rowan Taylor suggested the county eliminate 65 vacant firefighting positions that were budgeted this year. Figueredo said it’s unlikely those spots will be filled in the upcoming budget year.

Last month, for the first time in its 78-year history, fire-rescue was ordered to stop operating 11 fire trucks and emergency vehicles until the end of September to make up for $2 million spent on overtime over the past year.

Stations throughout the county will rotate the “rolling brownouts” in 48-hour shifts, transferring firefighters without trucks to other stations. The stations affected are two in South Miami-Dade, and one each in West Kendall, Miami Lakes, Miami Springs, Doral, Sweetwater, Miami Shores, Honey Hill, Sunny Isles and Uleta in North Miami Beach.