Miami-Dade’s proposed budget is the healthiest in years

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez unveils the 2017 budget during a press conference at County Hall in downtown Miami.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez unveils the 2017 budget during a press conference at County Hall in downtown Miami. MIAMI HERALD

The proposed 2017 budget that Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez unveiled on Monday seems to offer a little something for everyone. The mammoth $7.1 billion he will put forth to support the county’s 2.7 million residents is a budget with little drama — or so it seems at first airing.

“I have put Miami-Dade’s financial house in order,” the mayor said at his budget unveiling, before meeting with the Editorial Board to explain the highlights. A better reelection campaign slogan is hard to imagine.

There is a property tax rate decrease and no major services slashed. That represents a vast difference from what he offered just two years ago, when libraries, parks and social service programs across the county were all on the chopping block. Painful budget reductions resulted in contentious public budget hearings where the public outcry was deafening.

But are fiscal good times here for Miami-Dade? It seems so, thanks in part to a 9.1 percent surge in property values that added $128 million to county general funds.

In contrast to previous years, this is a budget unlikely to arouse a lot of public furor, providing a perfect political scenario for a mayor seeking his second term in the upcoming elections.

Smartly, the mayor and his staff have tried to address every potential shortfall that could be construed as a negative mark on the mayor’s tenure. They’ve sought to address every irritation and concern for residents and activists: traffic congestion, library services, park quality, bike paths and greenways.

After-school youth programs to address the spate of children and teen killings? Check. More police officers, more police cruisers, and more police officers wearing camcorders? Check, check and check. Promises have been kept, the mayor says

The $7.1 billion spending plan includes an expanded budget for the county library system, $40 million for synchronizing traffic lights, money for a new rescue squad, and a 40 percent increase in staffing for the county’s new animal shelter. Public housing money for the long anticipated rebuilding of Liberty Square is on the budget, to the tune of $46 million.

The one hit to our personal pocket books? An increase in water bills, a jump expected to average about $55-a-year, though the cost of water in the county will remain among the lowest in the state.

Mr. Gimenez told the board he has negotiated contracts with eight of the 10 unions, giving employees the first cost-of-living adjustment in more than five years.

There’s more: Because Miami-Dade is ground zero for sea-level rise, he’s budgeted $11 million for beach renourishment and the enhancement of Miami-Dade’s tree canopy, and more than $600 million toward renewing our water and sewer infrastructure to adapt to the effects of rising waters and climate change.

There is one group that will find fault with Mr. Gimenez’s budget. Members of the Pets Trust, who have long criticized him and commissioners for their decision to ignore a straw vote to finance a county “no kill” shelter.

“Nothing seems to placate them,” Mr. Gimenez told the board, not even the recent opening of the largest air-conditioned shelter in the country and $20 million for protection and care of local animals.

We’ll see if Miami-Dade commissioners and residents and find other holes in Mr. Gimenez’s air tight, rosy budget.