Miami Gardens - Opa-locka

Manager: Opa-locka’s debts may grow further

Renovations on Opa-locka's iconic Moorish Revival-style City Hall have stopped, and the contractor has walked off the job because the bills weren't being paid. A view of City Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015.
Renovations on Opa-locka's iconic Moorish Revival-style City Hall have stopped, and the contractor has walked off the job because the bills weren't being paid. A view of City Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. wmichot@miamiherald.com

As Opa-locka turned to face its financial crisis head-on, City Manager Steve Shiver sounded an even larger alarm—he’s not done digging up unpaid vendors.

Less than a month after approving its budget, the city has arrived at an $8 million deficit. And on Thursday, Shiver divulged the debt is likely more.

“I am still in the fact-finding mission,” he said over speakerphone to Florida Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel. “We have staff feverishly working on inputting invoices and bills that are not in computer systems but are still being presented for payment.”

After years of mounting debt, Shiver, a former county manager who was hired by Opa-locka in September, is trying to resolve the city’s crisis under a state program that bailed out the city of Miami two decades ago.

City leaders will convene a special meeting at 1 p.m. Friday to discuss finances.

The Miami Herald reported Thursday the city is millions of dollars in debt, briefly had its phones shut off and saw a contractor walk off the job because of nonpayment of bills over refurbishing Opa-locka's historic City Hall. Among those who owe the city large sums of money: a school operated by the mayor and her relatives.

On Thursday, Mayor Myra Taylor denied any ownership in the school, and says she doesn’t owe the city any money.

On Thursday, the state did not reveal whether or not it will move forward with the city. In 2002, the state took over the city budget for three years.

“We did just receive the additional information yesterday afternoon,” Miguel said over the phone. “I would want an opportunity to review that in greater detail.”

If the state agrees to take over the city’s finances, the governor’s office could require the city to provide an action plan to get out of debt. The state may also establish an emergency board to oversee the city’s spending.

Opa-locka's biggest creditor: Miami-Dade County, which the city owes $3.4 million for water, sewer and solid waste, among other charges. By December, the debt will be $4 million.

The crisis comes as the city faces other issues, including an ongoing inquiry by federal agents and the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission of alleged corruption by city officials.

Law enforcement agents have not commented on the probes, but a detailed letter sent to the state by the city manager’s office Wednesday raised serious concerns about money that was not being paid for water and sewer services — about $1.5 million — by thousands of residents and businesses.

“We need to get all of the information, as much as we have, and get that to the state," Commissioner Joseph Kelley said in an interview with the Miami Herald. "The commission needs to sit down and go over every item piece by piece and come together with a plan of how we're going to address it. I'm hopeful, but it is going to take some work."

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