North Miami - NMB

North Miami Beach working on solutions to budget problems

A year ago, when Ana Garcia became North Miami Beach’s newest city manager, she promised to deliver a balanced budget and devise a strategic plan to revamp the city’s ailing, financially strapped departments.

The city faced a $3 million dollar budget deficit, a divisive proposal to privatize the sanitation department, an aging police fleet, and an archaic city park system along with an outdated city computer system, among other things.

On Tuesday night, at the City Council’s second budget workshop, Garcia’s strategic plans came together in a proposed budget of nearly $115.5 million for 2015. With the unanticipated increase in tax income from higher property valuations and other adjustments, the deficit has been erased.

The police department is slated for the largest chunk of additional funding at nearly $21 million, much of it from state and federal funds. Eight police officers and code officer will be added plus the department will receive new Ford Taurus Interceptors.

“The intention is to have 32 vehicles purchased, to where the first cars are going to hit the streets sometime in October,” said Police Chief J. Scott Dennis.

In some instances, the budget proposal reflected tough decisions such as the ending of a summer camp program for low-income kids due to declining enrollment and the endorsement of a 9.5 percent water rate hike.

“We want to go into the direction of stopping the Band-Aid approach and really looking at our systems holistically,” Garcia said.

This summer, the Parks and Recreation department closed two of the city’s three public pools in low-income neighborhoods due to dangerous wiring problems. In addition, the park centers, which were built in the 1960s and ’70s, have not kept up with the residents needs.

“Washington Park Center only has two rooms. As a whole, our facilities do not address the community from a family standpoint. We’re limited what we can do. Highland and Washington Park are communities with the greatest needs,” said Paulette Murphy, Parks and Rec director.

Although the Parks and Rec budget is nearly $164,000 less than last year’s $4.5 million, Garcia said the budget includes money in this fiscal year to assess the infrastructure and programming needs of the community.

When Councilwoman Phyllis Smith suggested that the “dingy” bathrooms in Washington Park needed fixing, Garcia said it was better to start from scratch.

“Washington Park, we need to demolish,” said Garcia. “Rather than continue to paint over here and change the tiles in a bathroom, we really need to be looking at putting good money and investing in our facilities.”

The city has $4.2 million in unrestricted funds available if the council decides to make these improvements, Garcia said.

Mayor George Vallejo emphasized that parks and the police department, were two areas where funds need to be targeted. The other council members agreed.

The city, which owns and operates the Norwood-Oeffler Water Treatment Plant, provides water and sewer service to about 32,800 metered connections in North Miami Beach, Sunny Isles, Miami Gardens, Aventura and a portion of Northwest Miami-Dade. The proposed rate hike would apply to all users, not just those in North Miami Beach.

Fees for the average residential water customer would go up about $2.50 each month from a $26.31 to about $28.83, said Public Utilities Director Barbara Trinka. But for customers of both water and waste water services, their bill could see a slight decrease.

That’s because if adopted, the new water rating system, known as blocking, would lower the cost for the first few thousand gallons of water used by customers. Other water providers, including Miami-Dade County, already use this system as a way to encourage conservation.

“Highland Park is an example of our water and waste-water customer. For the average residential user, which uses about 6,000 gallons of water per month, their average bill is $71.93 per month. If the city changes the rate system and approves of the rate hike, they would pay $68.45, so they would be saving almost $3.50,” said Trinka.

Budget hearings are scheduled for 6 p.m. on Sept. 9 and Sept. 23 at City Hall.

The next City Council meeting will be 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 2 at City Hall, 17011 NE 19th Ave.