Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade budget faces final vote

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez unveils his draft county budget at County Hall on Tuesday, July 8.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez unveils his draft county budget at County Hall on Tuesday, July 8. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Miami-Dade commissioners face a final vote Thursday on the county mayor’s $6.2billion budget, a spending plan that mostly avoids deep cuts but pushes some big expenses into later years.

Using a mix of one-time windfalls, delayed expenses, cost trimming and rosier revenue forecasts, Mayor Carlos Gimenez in recent weeks scuttled most of the unpopular elements of his original budget.

He’s no longer proposing to lay off police officers, raise bus fares, close the youth Boot Camp program or continue recent cutbacks in the county’s mowing schedule for parks and roadways. Thanks to commissioners’ endorsing a higher library tax than Gimenez recommended this summer, a range of expanded branch hours and library services are on tap for the budget year that begins Oct.1.

Gimenez already won support from commissioners in preliminary budget votes, and this week’s announcements on Boot Camp and bus fares removed two of the remaining items that brought continued criticism from the 13-member panel.

Commissioner Sally Heyman on Wednesday described herself as mostly supportive. “Basically, all the essentials are still around, and some of the niceties were put back,” she said. “I would have liked to see additional effort on efficiency and waste.”

Rising property values helped soften the blow of higher labor costs, and Gimenez beat back most attempts to boost property tax rates beyond his plan for 2015.

Overall, the county’s combined property tax is set to rise less than 1percent to about $976 for every $100,000 of a property’s assessed value. That calculation includes three property taxes — for fire ($242 per $100,000), library ($28) and services in unincorporated Miami-Dade ($193) — not charged to all residents. No matter the property’s location, individual tax bills are likely to be higher, since property values themselves are up about 8percent this year.

Though Gimenez has withdrawn many of the most contentious parts of his initial proposal, some flashpoints endure.

The mayor’s $1 million initiative for police body cameras needs approval under the budget process, and commissioners kept a Sept.4 hearing going past midnight in part thanks to a debate over the devices.

Along with cameras, Gimenez’s plans for a 10 percent cut to charity and arts grants remained in the budget that will be the subject of the 5p.m. hearing Thursday in County Hall. Similar cuts to county small-business grants survived intact, too.

Gimenez also faces pressure to restore a $1.4million increase to the $2.5million in hotel taxes the Pérez Art Museum Miami already receives from Miami-Dade. The mayor dropped the planned increase in favor of beefing up police payroll.

The shift marked a milestone, as it was the first time Gimenez directly linked police jobs to the roughly $100million hotel-tax stream. The mayor’s budget team found a way to circumvent state restrictions on how to spend hotel taxes by funneling it through Zoo Miami, which is eligible for the tourist-generated money but is usually subsidized with property taxes. About $1.4million in freed-up property taxes will head from the zoo to police under the Gimenez budget.

Most of the newfound dollars Gimenez found since unveiling his draft budget in July went to eliminate police job cuts, which at one point endangered 450 positions. The mayor’s staff rearranged planned payments to Miami Beach, recalculated the current year’s surplus and imposed new healthcare options on non-union workers to find new money for police.

This week, Gimenez announced a plan to spend a transit surplus to buy a one-year reprieve on a 25-cent increase to Metrorail and Metrobus. He also revealed a plan to use the one-time windfall from a sale of county rescue helicopters to pay for another year of the jail system’s Boot Camp program for young offenders. At a County Hall press conference Wednesday on law-enforcement efficiency initiatives, Miami-Dade’s public defender urged a permanent solution for the alternative to jailing young convicts.

“Hopefully we will not have a battle next year over Boot Camp,” said Carlos Martinez, the public defender. “Because we’ll have a regular source of funding through all the money we’ve saved.”

Gimenez initially sought pay cuts from unions, but ultimately settled on negotiating for new healthcare plans to cut county costs. About 380 county jobs remain on the chopping block in his budget, including 42 civilian posts at the police department. Half of the county’s unions have endorsed the new health-care plans, which decrease costs for dependent coverage in exchange for fewer doctor options.

Gimenez said about 115 positions, including the 42 police civilian jobs, will be saved by the pending deals with unions and that he can save more jobs as more agreements get approved. Holdouts include the police union, which has fought Gimenez over the body cameras and his spending priorities, along with unions representing transit, fire and water-and-sewer departments.

Rebeca Sosa, chairwoman of the commission, said the uncertainty of the labor situation makes her less confident about the budget picture.

“It’s very important to know where the unions stand,” she said. “I am concerned that if some unions haven’t come to an agreement, what will be the implications after the budget is adopted.”

If you go

What: Final public hearing on Miami-Dade County’s 2015 budget

Where: Stephen P. Clark Government Center, 111 NW First St., Miami, second-floor commission chambers

When: 5 p.m. Thursday

Who: Members of the public invited to speak for two minutes about the budget

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