Plans advance to hold down Miami-Dade County salaries
By Risa Polansky
Bracing for a budget crisis next year that many fear will be worse than the one Miami-Dade continues to fight through now, county commissioners this week considered a bevy of salary-related initiatives aimed at saving money long term.
Among them: create a Compensation and Benefits Review Committee; set a moratorium on all pay hikes for non-union employees; limit future employees' salaries to that of the mayor or less; and offer incentives for employees to retire early.
The compensation review committee, a Natacha Seijas initiative, would advise lawmakers on matters related to personnel costs, reporting annually to recommend "the appropriate compensation policies for county employees," her legislation says.
This budget season, when commissioners cut a reported $444 million to combat plummeting revenues, compensation has been a key sticking point, with much discussion over how to cut pay and benefits and by how much.
Compensation adjustments make up nearly half the budget cuts, though loose ends remain as the county continues to battle it out with its unions.
The new review committee would consider, among other factors, comparable salaries in the public and private sectors, the need to attract and retain quality staff, and the county's fiscal ability to meet future personnel obligations.
Commissioners applauded the idea at a committee meeting Monday.
Joe Martinez called it "way, way, way overdue."
Also at the Monday meeting, commissioners sent legislation to the full commission that would freeze salary and bonus increases for all non-union employees under the mayor's purview.
Sponsor Barbara Jordan said she'd hoped to include all employees but found the commission can't mandate carte blanche a moratorium for union members.
She noted that when the county lays off employees, as it did to balance this budget, staffers are often bumped to new positions.
"A lot of times what happens after we have done massive layoffs or transfer of persons, then you have reclassifications… so essentially the savings you thought you had ends up not being savings at all," she said.
Under her proposal, which calls for a freeze until further notice, only commissioners — not administrators — could agree to raise pay or increase benefits.
And to rein in salaries moving forward, Commissioner Carlos Gimenez hopes to make it law that no future employee can make more than the mayor, who he called the county's "CEO."
Some commissioners argued, though, that mayors are elected and are not guaranteed to come with government experience or high-level degrees, whereas hired administrators should and often do.
The county shouldn't "tie our hands from getting the best of the best in this country or community to run this county" by limiting salaries for those high-level staffers, Audrey Edmonson argued.
Still, the measure passed in committee.
All the initiatives must come before the full commission for final votes.
Also discussed Monday, with no vote: offering early retirement incentives to get some of the longest-serving and highest-paid employees off the books.