Just days away from closing the books for the 2016 budget, Opa-locka remains short of a balanced budget, but the exact figure depends on who is looking at the numbers.
“We can’t kick the can anymore,” said Opa-locka City Manager Steve Shiver. “We will have to make sacrifices this year, there is no way around it. It is simply unavoidable.”
At a Sept. 22 budget workshop, Shiver proposed selling city commissioners’ vehicles, eliminating all special-event funding and reducing staff positions, among other cost-cutting items, to help close the city’s looming financial deficit. While Shiver said the gap is under $1 million, the city’s finance director insisted the shortfall was closer to double that amount, about $1.9 million.
“Right now these are the savings and some of them are expenses,” said Finance Director Faye Douglas about the document handed out at the budget workshop, which itemized what the city could do to save money. “We found $1.47 in savings, we still have $391,000.”
However, according to Shiver’s budget message, the deficiency is closer to $912,000. He did not confirm whether that number was correct at the meeting, but instead emphasized that reducing staff positions — a savings of about $1.2 million — would be the only way to successfully make up the difference.
While Mayor Myra Taylor remained quiet about eliminating employees, Commissioner Luis Santiago proposed removing not just the lower-level employee jobs, but also the positions with “big salaries.” If Shiver’s budget is approved, 33 positions will be gone.
“If we don’t really need it, let’s cut it off,” Santiago said. Shiver immediately rejected the idea.
“With all due respect, there are positions that may be higher-paid positions that have certain expertise that you have to pay to get,” Shiver said. “You have to be mindful of the balance that comes across the board. You can’t just pay everybody the same salary.”
While his budget eliminates about 22 percent of employee jobs, it also recommends restoring the remaining employees’ pay. Employee salaries were slashed about two months ago to help reduce the city’s financial crisis. If approved, reinstating the salaries would cost about $300,000.
In their attempt to close the remainder of the gap, commissioners considered where the city might find additional revenue. Commissioner Joseph Kelley inquired about whether account holders like Miami Dade College and Miami-Opa-locka Executive Airport have paid what they owe to the city for water and sewer.
“If we’re going to have to look at reducing staff, then I want to know that we have not left any stone unturned with collecting revenue that is due to this city,” Kelley said, adding that he also wants to see the city’s Community Empowerment Team (CET), which provides services including food stamp and homeless assistance and employment referrals, open and functioning in the new year.
The manager, however, said that only one account holder owed money to the city and that all other talk regarding unpaid accounts was untrue. He promised a clarifying memo to commissioners following the meeting.
Taylor disputed the city manager’s plan to collect revenue through the city’s red-light camera program. She said it was not acting as the income generator it was supposed to be. City Attorney Vincent Brown maintained the mayor’s belief.
“There are several issues with the red-light camera program,” Brown said. “The ordinance that was adopted back in 2008 sets a fine, which is less than what is allowed by statute. At some point, I think it was a disfavor at the city level.”
Following Brown’s statement, three members of the dais requested to dismantle the program. “It’s not doing anything for Opa-locka,” Vice Mayor Timothy Holmes said. Taylor agreed. It doesn’t really seem like it’s worth it to our city, she added.
Whether or not the city will keep its red-light program has yet to be decided. Although three officials did not believe it was worth moving forward, it will have to be brought before the public before any action is taken.
“We are going to look at all of the revenue sources, all the expenses,” Shiver said. “We’re still going to be faced with some issues, and I apologize for any inconsistencies in our presentation. It’s a challenge.”