Final budget to closely resemble draft, city manager says
By Risa Polansky
Miami residents should not expect to see at its final hearing late this month a budget differing significantly from the draft presented last week, City Manager Pete Hernandez said, though the budget anticipates an increase in property tax revenues to the city despite touting savings to taxpayers.
Commissioner Tomás Regalado said at the Sept. 11 budget hearing that he would not approve a budget that didn't offer more savings to residents.
But the budget is to be "more or less the same," Mr. Hernandez said. "The changes aren't that significant."
The 2008 budget proposes a millage rate of about $7.30 per $1,000 of assessed property value, one mil less than last year, offering some taxpayers relief.
Still, it anticipates a $7.3 million increase in property tax revenues and general fund revenues of about $523 million, up 3% from last year.
However, Mr. Hernandez said, "in years past, it had been increasing much higher."
The budget plan proposes a $31 million cut, not the $53 million that would come with the 9% required by most Florida cities as a result of statewide property tax reform measures. Mr. Hernandez and Mayor Manny Diaz say Miami's budget has been cut equal to the 9%, but officials have fed back into the budget $22 million for police and parks, among other services, resulting in $31 million in savings.
"We're trying to provide a budget that is both effective, that provides the same level of service the city has provided and even enhances those services," said Michael Boudreaux, director of the city's strategic planning, budgeting and performance office, while still "able to give some tax reductions to the citizens of Miami."
At the first budget hearing, commissioners called for a few specific changes to the proposed budget, including eliminating the economic development department, a more than $1.5 million entity that some called redundant because of other local economic development organizations, including the Downtown Development Authority.
Some of the $1.5 million saved by abolishing the department is to go toward police, Mr. Hernandez said, as commissioners requested.
He plans to propose another chunk of the money contribute to maintaining some of the functions of the soon-to-be-defunct department.
Other changes to the budget include, as requested by commissioners, a $50,000 cut to the Civilian Investigative Panel and a $500,000 cut to Virginia Key Beach Park's operating budget.
Commissioners also asked that $3.6 million from the city's contingency reserve be allocated to the fire department for capital equipment, "making up for the elimination of the fire assessment fee," Mr. Hernandez said.
Some commissioners at last week's meeting noted increases in departmental budgets, including communications and the city manager's office.
These come largely as a result of pay increases to employees, Mr. Boudreaux said, following the manager's recent victory in setting contracts with employee unions.
Staff is to clear up these and other questions at individual meetings with commissioners leading up to the Sept. 27 final hearing, he and Mr. Hernandez said.
Mr. Boudreaux said there will be no need to re-examine the budget department by department "unless the demand is for us to reduce more."
But further reductions could put at risk the city's financial future, Mr. Hernandez said, if voters in January or legislators in the future call for more rollbacks.
The city anticipates $59.2 million in an unreserved fund balance, which represents monies not designated for current or future use, "available for emergencies, if needed," according to the budget plan.
Still, more cuts now, Mr. Hernandez said, could "jeopardize the fiscal stability of the city."