Commissioners refuse to yield to Mayor’s scare tactics
Majority approve use of reserves in order to balance budget
D. Kevin McNeir | 9/19/2013, 9 a.m.
Miami-Dade County [M-DC] commissioners participated in a marathon public hearing last week as hundreds of concerned citizens addressed issues including library, fire department and waste management services — all viewed by the public as essential to the well-being of County residents. And when the commissioners called for a vote just before 2 a.m. last Wednesday, they agreed [by a 9-4 vote] to use $7.8M in County reserves in order to avoid laying off an estimated 169 workers and drastically reducing library hours. As for the fire-rescue department, the future of three fire trucks and an associated 59 firefighters may well rest on whether the County is awarded a
federal grant for which they have applied.
But while M-DC Mayor Carlos Gimenez warned against tapping into the reserves, several Black county commissioners say that they’re relieved that jobs have been saved.
“Let’s worry about next, next year and deal with this year, this year,” said Commissioner Barbara Jordan. “I’m happy that we’ve been able to reach a compromise. I told the mayor that I couldn’t blame him for wanting to keep the millage rate flat, given the history of recalls but you have to keep the needs of the people first — cutting library services to 16 hours a week would have been ridiculous. And we believe we’ll have a temporary remedy for fire services. Still, we’ve faced four years of budget reductions — $2B dollars to be exact and approximately 2,800 jobs lost. We have to find more revenue to sustain services. That’s why I will support a slight increase in the millage rate next year. It’s either that or cut more jobs and services.”
More about using reserve funds
Commissioner Dennis Moss said he voted to approve the use of reserve funds but says county employees have also compromised in order to save their jobs.
“You have reserve funds in place in the event that you are facing difficult times — these are difficult times,” he said. “I was against holding the millage rate flat and it was using reserves that closed the budget gap. This was a real crisis we were facing and the community responded by showing up in force to vent their opinions and to suggest solutions. As for next year, I agree with Commissioner Jordan — we have a year to figure things out and come up with a workable solution. It would be better to bring the library district back to the general funds so we can utilize other funding sources to maintain essential services.”
Commissioner Audrey Edmonson says the budget cuts that have occurred in the past four years have hit Blacks hard.
“When I first came on the commission in 2005, the budget was $7. — now it’s at $4.6B,” she said. “We can all do the math but what many don’t realize is how these cuts have impacted the Black community — especially the elderly. At one point the County was supporting more social services and CBOs and Blacks benefited greatly. But as money from the federal government was depleted or ceased, the County subsequently cut services. We are balancing the budget on the heads of our employees and I’m not going to support that. Right now it’s the libraries and solid waste that face potential layoffs. The goal is to save those jobs but that won’t be possible if we aren’t willing to raise the millage rate next year. I’ll support that increase to save jobs.”
Is Gimenez trying to scare us?
Jordan says she won’t give in to the mayor’s “doomsday prophecy.”
“I think he does an excellent job of scaring the community so he can do what he wants to do,” she said. “It’s too soon to panic. We had an increase in ad valorem revenue of about 3.4 percent and that helped. But when he constantly says he wants to cut taxes because we have the revenue and then wants to keep the tax rate flat while also maintaining services, he’s setting up things for doomsday.”
The commission will approve the final 2013-14 budget on Thursday, Sept. 19th.