Miami Gardens - Opa-locka

Opa-locka approves budget, eliminates employee furloughs

Opa-locka commissioners gave final approval to a tax rate of $8.50 per $1,000 of taxable property value for the 2014-2015 fiscal year.

The rate is lower than the $9.09 rate for 2013-2014, which cut the city close to the $10 maximum rate for a city. Rates in other Miami-Dade cities range from under $1.73 in Aventura to $9.70 in tiny Biscayne Park.

City officials held a second budget meeting on Sept. 24 but voted to postpone the meeting until Sept. 29 because the $8.50 plan had only been given to the mayor and commissioners at the start of the meeting.

On Sept. 29, City Manager Kelvin Baker presented his $8.50 plan, which included six furlough days for all employees. The city has had to furlough its employees in the past.

A sharp contrast from previous budget meetings, this one barely had an empty seat, as city employees, residents and business owners voiced their concerns, ranging from low property values, to disapproval of furloughs, to the battered street of Cairo Lane.

The meeting coincided with a fire breaking out at a junkyard on the potholed street, a well-known weak point of the administration. Business owners said firefighters had a difficult time accessing the junkyard due to the precarious state of the street.

About 15 owners and employees of the street’s junkyards showed up at the meeting wearing red t-shirts with the words “We demand more from our tax $$$.”

Angel Vargas, owner of JDM Kings, a junkyard on Cairo Lane, demanded a written promise by the commission that the road will be fixed.

“Customers don’t want to come down the road anymore,” he said. “We want to see something where you can put us at ease.”

Mayor Taylor assured the business owners that Cairo Lane was on the top of their list, but that the process involved going through Tallahassee which would likely be a long process, but one they could try to expedite.

City employees also pleaded against the furloughs, most with heartbreaking declarations.

David Norris, a city employee in charge of television production, said he was saddened by the city’s treatment of its employees.

“I talk to these employees and ... they say ‘I’m not going because I don’t like the way they treat us,’ and we’re getting ready to take more from our employees,” he said. “They’ve already had enough, this is getting too out of hand,” he yelled, visibly shaken.

Terrence Pinder, a former commissioner and now a candidate for a commission seat, also spoke against the furloughs.

“Isn’t it ironic that the exact furlough days comes out to the exact same number for the budget default?” he asked.

After the public hearing the commission agreed with the residents and decided against the furloughs, and instead focused on other ways of closing the $256,495 gap the furloughs would have closed.

Commissioner Dorothy Johnson told Baker that he had not done “due diligence” in coming back with a recommended plan that included furloughs.

Mayor Taylor then called on budget administrator Faye Douglas to sit with an adding machine as the commission figured out a solution.

After an hour, the commission was able to close the gap by laying off 12 temporary employees, cutting back on the commissioners’ special events budget, reducing advertising, and by taking $100,000 from the city’s reserves.

“No furloughs, no furloughs, just tacos” announced Mayor Taylor, the crowd clapped, and the gap was closed.