Miami budget specifics a no-show as commission faces $35 million shortfall
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
Time and patience are both running short at Miami City Hall as budget deliberations begin.
The city of Miami's first look at 2008-2009 budget projections Monday resulted in more questions than answers for frustrated commissioners left repeatedly saying they had "not seen the numbers."
"It seems everything that has to do with finances and with money in this city is a secret well kept among department managers and personnel of the city." City Commissioner Angel Gonzalez said.
Details of the city's fiscal picture are "constantly being kept from us," he charged. "I've been sitting in his chair seven years now… and every time I ask about numbers is a tremendous problem."
Mr. Gonzalez made the comment after he said his district had requested a report on the revenues of the newly-opened water park in Grapeland Heights Park and had yet to see it.
At Monday's budget workshop, Michael J. Boudreaux, director of strategic planning, budgeting and performance, led with a 30-minute presentation that segwayed into a discussion among the commissioners of areas they wanted minimally impacted by the budget cuts such as public safety, parks and recreation and the department of public works.
But some commissioners insisted it was difficult to voice concerns and suggestions without knowing the "strategies" the budgeting department and City Manager Pete Hernandez kept saying they had — but would not mention — to offset a $35 million projected shortfall.
"I am disappointed in this process…," Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez said as he looked out into the chambers mostly filled with city department heads and personnel. "I should have been here today knowing how much money you were going to cut, Mr. City Manager, and from where it was coming so I could address the departments."
But both Mr. Boudreaux and Mr. Hernandez assured commissioners that there were "strategies" to be implemented before presenting a balanced budget at the first budget review scheduled on Sept. 11.
"We do have a budget gap; we are proposing to balance it with reductions from… operations and implementation of other strategies," Mr. Hernandez said. He said among some of the city's goals with the budget balancing is to "…minimize or have no impact to our existing workforce."
Mr. Boudreaux said Monday's workshop — the first time commissioners convened at the dais after a month-long break — was to provide an "overview of the budget" and "was not intended to go over specific reductions.
"We have strategized ways and want to share those ideas individually," he said.
After the two-hour workshop adjourned, he said he began setting up private meetings with the commissioners to see "what direction they will want us to take the budget," he said in a later interview.
Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones was the only commissioner absent from the meeting; her office reported she was ill.
With commissioners yet to see proposed reductions, they will have about two weeks to assess the budget "strategies" before the proposed budget is to be officially presented to the public.
Since the budget-trimming suggestions are to be presented to commissioners individually, the commission will not get to convene and discuss their thoughts on the to-be-made cuts until the Sept. 11 meeting when it has to take a first vote on it. Final approval needs to take place by Oct. 1, when the new fiscal year begins.
Mr. Hernandez did say that the city hopes to maintain the same level of services to residents and a stable financial condition, and minimize the impact on its workforce.
But since the budget is being presented on a night when there also is a full agenda of other items, the budget discussion may not get the center stage it could have at the budget-only meeting.
Compressing the budget discussion time during a year when the city has to shed $35 million left some commissioners wondering how it will get done.
"I don't know how much fat you can trim off a department," Mr. Sanchez said. "…we need to look at all reasonable cuts that will not affect services or fire anybody in this city."