Miami-Dade to vote on three union contracts this week
By Risa Polansky
After months of hemorrhaging money paying higher-than-budgeted salaries, Miami-Dade commissioners are to vote today (2/18) to ratify three union contracts that would mark the beginning of the end of the biweekly overages expected to total $119.5 million when all is said and done.
Collective bargaining agreements with firefighters, general employees and aviation employees are to come before the commission today, each calling for contributing 5% of employees' pay toward group health insurance and a year-long benefits freeze.
The commission is to also consider revising the agreement it already approved with the solid waste labor group to allow for the health insurance option.
The union had previously agreed to take a cut in holiday pay.
Approving these four contracts would mean settled agreements with six of the county's 10 unions.
Officials are optimistic about wrapping up the last four soon.
Non-union employees took cuts in November.
Until union concessions become final, the county continues to pay those employees last year's higher compensation though the budget for fiscal 2010, which began Oct. 1, called for 5% pay cuts and year-long benefits freezes.
Salaries and benefits for employees cover about 52% of Miami-Dade's total operating budget, budget chief Jennifer Glazer-Moon said Tuesday.
The county had been reporting $8 million in overspending every two-week pay period since the fiscal year began, meaning losses should total about $80 million by March 1.
But in a memo last week, County Manager George Burgess cited an expected $119.5 million in overspending.
The additional $39.5 million has several explanations.
Ms. Glazer-Moon said the oft-cited $8 million biweekly losses included only salaries, not the extra money spent every pay period in benefits that were supposed to be suspended.
Also, the budget called for the benefits freeze from October through September — the full fiscal year — but administrators have decided not to make those retroactive, meaning the county gets only half the savings planned this year and the rest in fiscal 2011.
And, paying 5% of salaries toward health insurance "doesn't have exactly the same fiscal impact" as cutting base salaries, Ms. Glazer-Moon said.
For those employees who receive overtime pay, that will continue to be more than budgeted because base salaries will be higher than planned.
Departmental reserves and unbudgeted carryover money are to be shifted to cover the bulk of the $119.5 million in losses, about $83.7 million.
To take care of the rest, the county's recovery plan includes recapturing $4.5 million in unspent community-based organization funding, line-item reductions in every department, service reductions and layoffs.
Ms. Glazer-Moon said the hope is to get a memo to department directors by week's end outlining service cuts, which will make clear how many positions the county will need to eliminate to fill this year's budget gap.
But because of a complicated process that gives certain employees "bumping" rights into other positions because of longevity and other factors, and because union layoffs require 21 day's notice, Ms. Glazer-Moon said the county won't know the number of actual layoffs for about a month.