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Mayor backpedals again on making massive budget cuts

Will Blacks bear the brunt of layoffs?

D. Kevin McNeir | 8/7/2013, 11:07 a.m.
Where your county tax dollars go —Illustration courtesy of Miami-Dade County

It’s hard to tell exactly what version of the 2013-2014 budget Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez will submit to the county commission when a final vote is held next month. Several weeks ago, the Mayor indicated that he would raise taxes in order to balance the budget and maintain services for the county. But when citizens and the commission railed against an increase in the property-tax rate, Gimenez backed down and recommended a flat tax rate. However, he pointed out that without a significant increase in the property tax rate, the only remaining option would be to make cuts in services.

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Mayor Gimenez

Those cuts included closing almost half of the County’s public libraries (22) and dismantling six fire-rescue trucks. The Mayor concluded that with the library department facing a $20M gap and the fire department being short by $15M, something would have to give. The ire of citizens only became more heightened as several things became clear. First, some 149 firefighters/paramedics, along with 250 library workers would be the ones receiving pink slips. Second, Black communities appeared to be disproportionately represented in the slated library closures.

Last Sunday, Gimenez made a brief appearance on “This Week in South Florida with Michael Putney,” during which time he attempted to clarify where he stands in terms of the budget and cutbacks — for now. In summary, Gimenez said he thinks he can save some of the County’s libraries, including those in Model City and Opa-locka, reducing the number of closures from 22 to 14. He added that he also believed he could protect three fire trucks from being shut down. He told Putney that the closures for the library and fire departments that he first announced were based on a “worst-case scenario.”

Community gets a chance to respond

Now, Gimenez has initiated a series of town hall meetings — the first of which kicked off last Tuesday evening at the North Dade Regional Library in Miami Gardens. According to a spokesperson for the Mayor, he will make a presentation regarding the budget at each town hall meeting and will then address any questions from the community. The Mayor was unavailable for comment.

However, two citizens, both longtime residents of Miami-Dade County, 40 and 60-plus years, respectively, did express their concerns about the budget process and the proposed cuts, saying they planned to attend at least one of the town hall meetings. One citizen said that while the Mayor had addressed the Spanish-speaking community via the radio, he had not spoken to Blacks. The second responder said he hoped that the town hall meetings would actually make a difference but feared that without enough people attending and opposing the cuts, the budget as it now stands was probably a foregone conclusion. Both said they were willing to give the Mayor and the commission the benefit of the doubt and see what transpires at the town hall meetings.

The town hall meetings will continue in Palmetto Bay Commission Chambers [Aug. 8]; City of Aventura Commission Chambers [Aug. 15], Florida City, City Hall [Aug. 20]; West Dade Regional Library [Aug. 22] and Little Haiti Cultural Center [Aug. 27]. All of the meetings begin at 6 p.m. For more information go to www.miamidade.gov/budget.