West Miami-Dade

Sweetwater approves budget, seeks to sell city property to cover costs

Sweetwater Mayor Orlando Lopez, in his office during an interview in June 2015.
Sweetwater Mayor Orlando Lopez, in his office during an interview in June 2015. el Nuevo Herald

Sweetwater commissioners approved a budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year and made plans to fill its financial voids with the future sale of a municipal property.

The decision was reached after three weeks of amendment revisions and several disagreements among commissioners and Mayor Orlando Lopez over the city’s financial state.

Lopez said he would veto the decision, stating that the city can’t cover the costs tied to changes to the budget, which is expected to surpass $17 million.

“It will be vetoed,” Lopez wrote in an email. “The amendments create a deficit of $1.34 million in the city budget, so it’s not a balanced budget.”

The plan crafted by the commissioners — and approved by six of seven commission members — is to correct the deficit with the sale of a property on Northwest 17th Avenue, a block away from the Dolphin Mall, for which they hope to receive $3 million. The city still owes more than $600,000 for the property.

“We will add the profit of the sale to the budget and balance it,” said Commissioner Jose Bergouignan, who presented the motion.

“And what’s going to happen if in six months or a year, we haven’t sold the property?,” asked Isolina Maroño, the only commissioner who voted against the amendments to the budget.

“We will sell in a week. There’s 50 people who have already called me saying they’re interested,” Bergouignan responded.

Ricardo Mendez, Sweetwater’s financial director, warned commissioners that the sale and closing process could be lengthy and that there’s costs attached to both.

Lopez also said he doesn’t believe the city could obtain the amount of money for the property that the commissioners are stipulating.

Commissioners also have demanded Lopez eliminate positions for which salaries were not listed on the previous budget, and which are filled by personnel hired by him upon becoming mayor in May. They’re also asking Lopez to rehire 16 city employees fired in August when the mayor announced a financial crisis in the city because of a lack of funds in the reserves and debts owed to the unions.

“What we want is to balance the budget with the sale of these properties so that we can give these people their jobs back, and probably also put some money in the reserves,” said former mayor and president of the City Commission Jose M. Diaz. .

But Lopez said he will keep the employees whose positions the commission wants to eliminate.

“The positions will not be eliminated,” said the mayor.

In August, Lopez announced that he would seek intervention from Florida Governor Rick Scott’s office, to establish the city’s financial urgency.

During a city meeting on Monday, commissioners said they’d make more changes to the budget during the revision sessions scheduled over the next few weeks. If all commissioners come to an agreement on the budget, they could annul the mayor’s veto.

Brenda Medina: 305-376-4652 @BrendaMedinar