Miami Gardens - Opa-locka

Non-budgeted bonuses, hiring, overtime pay leave Opa-locka $1.7 million in the hole

Opa-locka is on the brink of financial instability.

City Manager Kelvin Baker called a special commission meeting Monday night to discuss implementing a plan to help close the year on track. The city is approximately $1.7 million in the hole.

“What we’re dealing with is an age-old problem that has carried on for many years,” Baker said. “There were several items that have occurred this year that have created a challenge.”

The reason for the city’s financial insecurity: non-budgeted holiday bonuses for all employees, additional employee hiring, departmental overtime and the approval of non-budgeted contracts.

Baker recommended to the commission three possible resolutions — a voluntary early-retirement program, a salary reduction for all employees or a staff reduction plan.

Mayor Myra Taylor, however, had a different plan in mind.

“I’m not going to support firing anybody,” Taylor said. “Why did we hire folk knowing that it would tilt the budget? I cannot support that as mayor.”

Of the emergency commission meeting, she added: “This meeting was not called by the mayor, but the mayor gets the blame and gets very little credit. Tonight I’m going to tell you what the mayor ought to do. I’m going to create a financial task force of people who have no interest in this city whatsoever.”

The emergency meeting continued not with the agenda, but with additional comments from the dais.

“Why are we here?” Vice Mayor Timothy Holmes said. In January, Holmes received $10,000 from the commission to fight a lawsuit against him. “This is where the buck stops — with us.”

Commissioner Terence Pinder seamlessly shamed the commission for not picking up on the problem sooner.

“Back in December when we took a financial snapshot of the city, we knew this,” he said. “And now this has come into fruition.”

According to an Opa-locka task force financial report from April, the general fund revenues received and expenditures since this start of the fiscal year are about even. And as of March 31, about $450,000 non-budgeted expenses were made, including an overtime budget that is 98 percent spent, according to the city’s financial director.

“I said that I did not agree with a lot of the numbers and the recommendations coming forward,” Commissioner Joseph Kelley said. “The reality is we are here where we are. No one in this room particularly on the dais wants to lay off anyone.”

The commission agreed to move forward with the mayor’s emergency task force, which supposedly will have access to the city’s financial books, according to Taylor’s plan. The dais also unanimously agreed to adjourn the meeting without considering Baker’s requests, although they opened the meeting up for public comment for both residents and employees.

“Enough is enough. I’m tired of being knocked down,” said Willie Witherspoon, a resident and city employee. “The small employees always get the brunt of everything. We’re still dealing with the same issues we’re dealing with eight years ago.”

Others shared similar sentiments.

Opa-locka resident Steven Barrett suggested the city start its cuts at the top.

“Look at the cars you drive. Set some guidelines, if you’re over 65 and you work for the city, get on Medicare,” he said. “I would love to be on the task force and tell some truth. You have to make tough decisions for this city.”

The commission closed the meeting without taking an action. The mayor called the city’s budgetary issue will be revisited at the city’s June 10 regularly scheduled meeting.