Miami Gardens - Opa-locka

Opa-locka City Manager Steve Shiver seeks changes, including better budget oversight

Residents praised Opa-locka City Manager Steve Shiver for hammering down on code enforcement, lack of technology and budget oversight in his 2016 budget after telling city officials “it can no longer be business as usual in Opa-locka.”

At a Sept. 17 workshop, Shiver presented a new organizational chart, a financial analysis of the city’s operating budgets since 2012, and “fixes” for revenue enhancement. While the audience could not comment at the informal meeting, one resident hugged Shiver afterward and thanked him for “laying out” the issues.

“He’s not beating around the bush,” said Opa-locka resident and former Commissioner Steve Barrett. “The manager said if we don’t follow these guidelines, the state is going to come on in.”

While Shiver was quick to say he wasn’t responsible for the then-version of the city’s $13.9-million budget, he detailed some of the biggest changes to come: restructuring the police department, merging code enforcement with police, refocusing on collecting liens and updating technology across city departments.

In the three weeks Shiver has been Opa-locka’s manager, defects within the city are already being brought to the table.

“Fleet management is lacking,” Shiver said. “The mechanic shop has not been updated and it’s no longer beneficial to have that in house.”

Also on Shiver’s list: digitizing building department records, improving water and sewer connectivity, offering more training through human resources and introducing an app to help with code enforcement.

Of the issues, he added: “If you take a tour of public works, the roof is leaking, the walls are seeping water through the concrete. It’s truly a waste of money, quite frankly.”

Heavy rain often leaves Opa-locka and its warehouse district in shambles because most of city streets are without proper drainage. Commissioners have been sitting on millions of state dollars to correct their chronic water, sewer and drainage problems and recently re-entered the bidding process to choose a contractor to complete some of the work.

The manager’s office is said to bring an updated draft, which is supposed to include these modifications, to the city’s next budget workshop on Sept. 22.

Commissioners, however, were quick to criticize a few of Shiver’s plans.

“The tone of the voice that I heard from you has made me feel very worried about the situation that we have here—the situation that many of us know that is coming from the past,” Opa-locka Commissioner Luis Santiago said. “Let’s be careful when we’re going to bring something here and it’s going to cost thousands of dollars and we don’t use it in the proper way.”

While Santiago focused on the costs of the proposed changes, Mayor Myra Taylor voiced concern about the merging of the code enforcement with the police department.

“I don’t want code turning into police officers,” she said. “Police have a different mindset and when code was under the police department, they went into the ‘Rambo’ mindset and caused us a problem.”

Although the city manager agreed to some of the points Taylor mentioned, he insisted that the city still needed “take a hard look at code” because “there are things out there that we don’t have written in our code.”

In her commentary about Shiver’s plans for the city, Taylor also made an effort to understand the city’s previous budget gaps, as noted in documents that were handed out during the meeting.

The biggest eyesore: Opa-locka’s revenue compared to its expenses.

The city has lost about $3 million in revenue since 2012, while expenses have remained relatively the same, around $14 million per fiscal year. Between 2012 and 2015, the city was operating on a deficit to meet their operational goals and borrowed approximately $6 million to fill the void of steady revenue, according to city staff.

“We are faced with a few years of belt tightening beyond what Opa-locka has ever seen. It’s important we don’t gloss over or soft peddle what we’re facing,” Shiver said. “If we don’t make these decisions in the next few weeks properly, you will inevitably trigger a financial oversight committee.”