Two weeks after toiling late into the night to craft a budget for 2015, Miami commissioners on Tuesday breezed through a final hearing on a $560 million spending plan that funds dozens of new police officer positions and bolsters reserves.
The commission voted 4-1 in favor of the budget, which increases spending by $35 million over 2014. Commissioner Frank Carollo cast the lone dissenting vote, saying afterward that he felt the city should have invested more in public safety.
Other commissioners, however, were satisfied with the city’s financial roadmap, which sets aside about $14 million more for the police department, much of it to fund 80 new police officer positions. The budget also finds money for 22 more firefighters, and boosts the city’s reserves to about $90 million — a number that jumps to $100 million if the city defeats a legal challenge to a voter-approved lease amendment with Bayside Marketplace and SkyRise Miami.
“What’s in front of you... is a good budget and a good solution overall,” Mayor Tomás Regalado told commissioners.
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Where the city’s preliminary budget hearing lingered past 2 a.m. thanks in part to a protest by Miami’s public employee unions, the final budget hearing took only two hours and was so sparsely attended that the United Way had to scramble to sell leftover pizzas from a planned fundraiser.
The budget is a compromise between commissioners and Regalado and City Manager Daniel Alfonso, who argued for months that commissioners should use an influx of property taxes to boost once-depleted reserves and move forward with badly needed maintenance projects.
The mayor and manager initially proposed adding only an additional 20 police officers, warning that hiring more could put the city in a difficult position in future years. But commissioners said the city’s force is understaffed. They agreed to help fund the new cops by finding more than $2 million from two community redevelopment agencies that pull property taxes from Miami’s Omni and Overtown neighborhoods.
“We realized public safety was a big priority,” Alfonso said Tuesday.
The budget also includes $1.25 million for an anti-poverty initiative pushed by Commissioner Keon Hardemon, and another $200,000 for the Liberty City Trust, a previously defunded quasi-independent agency that Hardemon has tasked with pushing economic development in the inner city. Part of that funding comes from money slashed out of the $744,000 budget of the Civilian Investigative Panel, which continues to push for a potential buyout with its contracted attorney, Charles Mays.
Overall, the budget increases spending thanks to rising property values and new development that allowed Regalado to propose a slightly decreased overall property tax rate — $8.385 per $1,000 of valuation — and still reap millions more into Miami’s coffers. New development has also provided the city with an estimated $44 million in impact fees, restricted funds that officials plan to spend mostly on parks projects.
Perhaps the only substantial question mark remaining in the budget is employee compensation, with Miami’s four unions all continuing to negotiate new contracts. The city initially set aside $5.5 million to increase pay for its roughly 4,000 employees, but labor groups all say the city should do more to restore their compensation after commissioners unilaterally slashed pay and benefits during the recession.