Miami-Dade Commissioner Gimenez proposes budget suggestion that wouldn't raise any taxes for cities
By Risa Polansky
Adamantly against increasing taxes for any Miami-Dade residents, county Commissioner Carlos Gimenez is pushing his own alternative to Mayor Carlos Alvarez's proposed budget.
Mr. Alvarez's plan calls for lowering the tax rate for fire, libraries and the unincorporated municipal service area, but increasing the countywide rate to keep the combined millage the same as last year.
It would reduce taxes for most residents but raise them for some — namely, dwellers in cities and villages.
Using Mr. Gimenez's idea instead, "everybody in this county will be treated the same," he told members of the county's Budget and Finance Committee last week.
He's proposing the county adopt state-mandated rates across the board, which would provide the tax relief residents voted for in January, he said.
Going above the state limit, as Mr. Alvarez proposes for the countywide rate, would require a two-thirds vote of the commission.
Mr. Gimenez pledged to vote no.
His plan to keep all rates in line with the state would create a $68.5 million deficit in the countywide general fund — but "the gap can be overcome," he wrote in his memo to the budget committee.
He offers several suggestions totaling $50.5 million in savings.
Adding $2 million to the Countywide Emergency Contingency Reserve as opposed to the $10 million Mr. Alvarez proposed, saving $8 million to the general fund.
Eliminating the new Office of Economic Development Coordination the mayor plans to create, saving $779,000.
Reducing set-asides for outside consultants from Mr. Alvarez's proposed $1 million to only $50,000.
Cutting proposed funds for outside legal services from $1.9 million to $900,000.
Allocating $10.3 million to buy replacement vehicles rather than the proposed $20.3 million.
His strategy would not reduce the county's reserves — it would simply increase the fund by less than planned, Mr. Gimenez said.
He called the proposed economic development office a "duplication of services."
Commissioners have made clear they'd like to cut back on consultants, he said, and the county's legal department is capable enough to negate the need for a larger fund for outside counsel.
As far as reducing the replacement vehicle allocation, Mr. Gimenez said the commission last year approved a 10% reduction to the fleet.
Also, in asking administrators what type of new vehicles are needed and why, "they couldn't give me an answer," he said.
Mr. Gimenez's plan would leave about $18 million to cut in order to balance the countywide general fund budget — only 1.7% of the $1 billion-plus fund.
In his memo and at the committee meeting, he urged the mayor and administration to find the rest of the savings.
He offered also an additional solution: continuing the county's current hiring freeze.
Thus far, that has saved $12 million over 15 months.
"Deferring the hiring of new employees alone could achieve $9.6 million without any additional layoffs," Mr. Gimenez wrote in his memo.
Administrators asked for time to respond to the ideas fully but offered some comments at the committee meeting.
Building up the county's healthy reserves has improved bond ratings, Strategic Business Management Director Jennifer Glazer-Moon said.
She said a $10 million savings to the general fund by reducing the allocation for new vehicles may not be possible, as some of the monies budgeted do not come from the general fund.
She also pointed out that it's not only the county mayor who might raise millage rates above the state mandate.
Twenty-nine of the county's 35 municipalities advertised higher rates to residents, Ms. Glazer-Moon said.
Commissioners reminded her that advertised rates only set a ceiling. Cities, like the county, can vote to lower the rates.
Ms. Glazer-Moon said she could prepare a response to Mr. Gimenez's memo by this week.
Commissioners on the budget committee requested also that the administration work on an alternate savings proposal using Mr. Gimenez's memo as a template.
The county's first full budget workshop is to be held today (9/4).
The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.