West Miami-Dade

Sweetwater approves budget, property tax rate

Sweetwater commissioners on Monday approved a $17.5million budget for the new fiscal year and a slightly lower property tax rate.

The new budget is about $2million more than last year. With new businesses coming to the city, the increase in revenues from building permits and zoning licenses alone added up to half a million dollars.

With new sources of revenue, the budget reflects increases in payroll throughout the several departments, including a $370,000 increase in the police department, $140,000 in the maintenance department, $47,000 in the building and zoning department and $40,000 in the administration.

Part of the budget also includes a new position in the administration, a full-time employee to record commission meetings and help with other technology and media as needed.

Instead paying to televise each commission meeting, finance director Ricardo Mendez said it would save the city money if it established a full-time position with a salary of $50,000.

Mayor Jose M. Diaz said the position will include upgrades to the city’s cable television channel.

During the 2013-2014 fiscal year, the city incurred in unexpected expenses and made two budget revisions, one in June and a second in September.

“We’ve had a set extenuating circumstances,” said Mendez, whose appointment was ratified at the Sept. 22 meeting. “We are getting caught up.”

Along with the new budget, the City Commission gave final approval to change the tax rate from $2.92 to about $2.75 per $1,000 in taxable home value.

Also at the meeting, commissioners overruled the mayor’s veto and changed employee health plans, saving $450,000 more than last year. These extra funds will be used to replenish the city’s cash reserve fund.

Mayor Diaz vetoed the resolution the commissioners had approved in early September to change health plans for city employees from Avmed to Neighborhood Health Partnership through their long-time broker Charles Citrin.

In the veto message, the mayor said that the commission did not follow the proper process before making the change — the broker of record had never been ratified into his position and the Police Benevolent Association was not informed of the change.

“I am troubled by the lapse in procedure that may have serious consequences to the city,” the mayor said in his veto message to the commission.

John Rivera, Dade County PBA president, told the commission that he needed to be part of the process and asked to look at the health plans.

“I don’t think the intent was malice,” Rivera said. “It would be negligent on our part if we didn’t review that. We have not seen that document.”

With the enrollment period closing in, the commissioners worried that city employees would have a gap in coverage.

Citrin, who was ratified by the commission at the meeting, said he had tried to enroll employees last week, but was blocked by the administration, so he would begin enrollment this week.

“As far as not being appointed, it’s kind of a strange time to be telling me that,” Citrin sad. “I’ve been here every year for eight years.”