Government jobs on chopping block as budgeting deadlines loom in area
By Jacquelyn Weiner
The worst may be over for much of private-sector job loss, but government cuts still loom.
As Miami-Dade County and its many municipalities prepare to tackle tough budget issues, hundreds of employees' jobs are on the chopping block.
And with a 12.6% area unemployment rate, more layoffs won't help, said Robert Cruz, Miami-Dade County's chief economist.
"The job market is currently weak," Dr. Cruz said. "It really adds pressure to that."
This coming fiscal year, the largest number of local-government layoffs comes from Miami-Dade County, which has proposed cutting about 1,200 positions. Of those, 900 are filled.
The county has more than 27,000 employees. It faces a deficit of almost $440 million in fiscal 2010-2011, according to the proposed budget.
Among the proposed cuts: three positions in the county executive offices.
They are a chief of staff, a $146,000 savings; an assistant county manager, a $209,000 savings; and a senior executive secretary, a $73,000 savings.
Departments facing the biggest reductions include water and sewer with 193 position cuts and parks and recreation with 92.
Also proposing personnel cuts is Coral Gables. In its preliminary budget for fiscal 2011, 30 full-time positions are on the chopping block.
Coupled with 13 new positions, that's a net reduction of 17 positions, according to City Manager Pat Salerno's budget message.
On the other end, some municipalities hope to avoid layoffs altogether.
Despite facing a projected $110 million deficit in the coming fiscal year, Miami City Manager Carlos Migoya has said he doesn't plan to fire any employees.
Instead, plans to reduce $84.7 million in personnel costs include 5%-12% across-the-board salary cuts for employees making more than $40,000, cutting benefits and switching from a defined-benefit pension plan to a defined-contribution plan.
Also hoping to avoid layoffs is Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina.
Hialeah is facing a shortfall of about $22 million next fiscal year, Mr. Robaina said.
However, the plan is to reduce salaries over firing any employees.
"My goal is not to have to lay off anyone," he said. "I don't think that that would be the best solution, especially in these hard economic times. We need to keep people at work."
What could jeopardize this, he said, is if the city doesn't come to an agreement with unions. Negotiations with police and firefighter unions are still pending, he said.
"If for any reason we do not have all the negotiations with the unions down or done by [budget time]Ö I have to look at eliminating positions."
That would affect filled positions, he said, because the city did away with any vacancies in April.
Government layoffs are nothing new: area public-sector employment has been shrinking for two years, said economist Dr. Cruz.
On top of that, local governments have laid off workers in recent months to make ends meet, he said.
"It looks like it's going to be even more so as we get into the next fiscal year," Dr. Cruz said. He predicted layoffs would wane after the coming fiscal year.
Aside from government layoffs being detrimental to the overall employment picture, he said, they also have a negative ripple effect on other sectors of the local economy.
According to Miami-Dade County's economic model, Dr. Cruz said, an additional 900 private-sector jobs are lost locally for every 1,000 jobs lost in local government.
In addition, he said, with 1,000 government job losses the county's gross domestic product "shrinks by about $153 million" and "about $46 million is lost in local consumer expenditures."
"It's definitely going to be a negative for the local economy," Dr. Cruz said of the layoffs' effects. "It makes the unemployment picture less promising."
At this point, budget numbers for fiscal 2011 are preliminary.
Final decisions on government budgets are to be made in September. Fiscal 2011 begins Oct. 1.
This year's budgeting will be especially difficult for many area governments facing budget holes caused by plummeting property values.
Taxable value in every Miami-Dade taxing authority declined this year.
The smallest dips were in Virginia Gardens at 3.8% and Pinecrest at 5.5%.
The sharpest drop in the county was Homestead, which saw a 31.2% decline in property values.