If the average citizen sat in on a county commission meeting, they would leave the session scratching their heads in disbelief like I have done so many times. I’m still perplexed at the general lack of consideration for our tax payer dollars that some of our elected officials have.
One particular item stood out during a board of county commissioners meeting I attended at the beginning of May. The item, signed and approved by Deputy Mayor Edward Marquez, requested the commission to approve $88 million for office furniture.
This incredible request from the mayor’s office came during a week when talk in the state Legislature swirled around a proposed property tax break to state homeowners, which would translate to an estimated $80 million deficit for Miami-Dade County.
What makes the request more appalling and off putting than the insane figure itself is the blasé, matter-of-fact way county employees and some of our elected officials respond when questioned about these outlandish requests.
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Many of them, including Mayor Carlos Gimenez, are pensioned up to their ears after having served in the public sector for so many years — so what do they care about the surreal numbers being bandied about?
The $88 million might seem like a drop in the bucket in what is an overall budget of more than $7 billion. However, it still is an awful lot of money to spend on furniture.
Fortunately, a couple of commissioners scoffed at the item and made the mayor’s office scramble and come up with a better proposal.
Commissioner Joe Martinez astutely pointed out the pitfalls of government budgeting and told a story about his days as a Kendall cop when he used to put together the budget for his precinct. “Your total should equal last year’s plus 10 percent more,” was the advice passed on to him.
Martinez realized how imprecise and downright wasteful local government can be. “I have a problem with this line item and how we are spending our taxpayers’ money,” he said from the dais.
Martinez was seconded by Commissioner Sally Heyman, who suggested the county procurement office should get better pricing given the “bulk in which they buy.”
The item was explained and rationalized by someone from the Internal Services Department. The employee, uttered some ridiculous factoids about previous spending when Martinez questioned the line item.
She could very well have been speaking in Uzbek, because most of the commissioners, with the exception of the ones I have mentioned, seemed bored into a trance-like state — not very comforting given the matter in front of them.
Commissioner Xavier Suarez also reached out during that week, writing me that it would be hard for the administration to justify the $88 million expenditure. “I have served on the commission for six years coincident with Gimenez’s tenure as mayor,” he said. “I have yet to see the beginning of serious streamlining. This could be a watershed issue. I think the commission is beginning to scrutinize these expenditures much more closely.”
Gimenez, a self-proclaimed tax cutter, was also the beneficiary of a 9.1 percent surge in property values last year that provided an additional $128 million to the county coffers. That was the time to begin reducing the size of our local government.
Gimenez was up for reelection last year. He cut just enough to proclaim a reduction but not enough to make a dent. And now the county needs $88 million for furniture.