Miami-Dade commissioners wary of promised pay hike for unions
By Risa Polansky
Four union contracts newly cemented, Miami-Dade County is on its way to closing a gaping hole in this year's budget — but commissioners fear worse in the future, frustrated without property tax projections and skeptical over promising employees a raise.
The collective bargaining agreements, approved last week, call for putting 5% of employees' pay toward health insurance, suspending benefits for a year and freezing pay increases until a 3% raise in July 2011.
Commissioners applauded administrators and the unions for finally shaking hands on agreements that will help staunch budget hemorrhages this year and keep costs down next year, but several raised concerns over the planned pay hike.
"Since we have no idea of what kind of revenue will be coming in to the county in 2011, or even what the shortfall will be, I see here that we've promised a 3% pay increase. Do we have any idea of how we're going to pay that out?" Audrey Edmonson asked.
Rebeca Sosa had the same question.
"I am extremely concerned about telling our employees that they will receive a 3% increase…. How can we guarantee that to them today when we don't even have the slightest idea of what the income of the property taxes is going to be?"
Miami-Dade Appraiser Pedro Garcia has insisted he can't make estimates before the regular preliminary report in June despite requests from officials.
The administration has been making rough revenue projections for next year based on a 12% property tax roll decline — derived from foreclosure data, state revenue estimates and other sources — and is beginning to run scenarios contemplating worse.
Commissioner Carlos Gimenez noted that Broward's appraiser released estimates this month.
Because Mr. Garcia "flat out said he couldn't," how can the county promise 3% raises, Commissioner Sally Heyman asked, fearing layoffs and service cuts as a result of "the miscalculation."
County Manager George Burgess explained repeatedly that "That's just a part of the cost of government that we then have to balance against revenue, and to the extent we're off, we have to make the requisite service adjustments. Increase efficiencies, reduce administrative overhead, reduce service — preferably in that order."
Ms. Edmonson predicted administrators will ask for a tax hike.
The manager also pointed out that the 3% increase was one provision of many in the new contracts — several of them concessions from the unions that add up to more than $100 million in savings.
The 3% raise is to cost about $13 million.
"You can't just look at that 3% in a vacuum," Mr. Burgess said. "You have to look at it in the context of all of the concessions that labor has agreed to, because they're significant."
Because it's taken nearly half the fiscal year to agree to those concessions, and some union contracts are still outstanding, the county is dealing with an estimated $119.5 million deficit this year.
Reserves and unbudgeted carryover are to handle about $83.7 million.
Line-item budget reductions, service cuts and layoffs are to cover most of the rest.