Miami commissioners to push budget agendas this week; trash fee, overtime cuts to be discussed
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
Miami's commissioners know exactly what's important to them as they head into individual meetings with City Manager Pete Hernandez this week to contemplate this year's budget.
Though the Aug. 25 budget workshop detailed the roots of the city's rising expenses, there was little mention of where $35 million in cuts would come from.
But there are options, and commissioners want to make sure every one is discussed.
"We cannot fix a budget by raising fees and taxes; we need to be more creative," Commissioner Tomás Regalado said.
One major revenue-booster could be increasing the trash and garbage collection fee.
This July, the solid waste department's fee was capped at $419 annually per household, which the city manager's office reports to be an increase of $94 from a current rate of $325. The $419 ceiling was set for budgeting purposes but a fee of that amount had not been approved by commissioners.
The increase is almost a reality as the city prepares to maintain the garbage pickup service at twice-a-week and reduce the bulk trash pickup from twice monthly to once
Households are not getting charged enough to fund the increasing costs of upgrades and repairs to solid waste equipment and its fleet, Mr. Hernandez said.
This would be the first garbage collection fee increase in five years, he added.
Commissioner Marc Sarnoff agrees taxpayers need to pay the "true fee."
"I think we should be honest with taxpayers and let them know this is what it costs," Mr. Sarnoff said.
He said an alternative to assessing the full $419 would be to cut pickups from twice to once a week, an option Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez also suggested at last week's budget workshop.
Mr. Regalado fears the impactof the garbage hike is to be hardest felt by 69,000 retirees in Miami.
The fee hike is something Mr. Regalado said he is unwilling to support, "I won't vote for it."
Instead, he proposes that commissioners lead by example in these budget-trimming times by reducing their office budgets, which currently sit at $400,000 for each office. Commissioners' offices took a $50,000 cut last year, he said.
Mr. Hernandez said this year's projected revenues are similar to those of last fiscal year, but expenses such as fuel and utilities are rising, which are expected to go up by about $5 million this year.
Also, $20 million more is to be paid in salaries due to already-approved union contracts and the cost of maintaining adequate public safety, the city's biggest expense, Mr. Hernandez said.
Mr. Regalado said he wants to look into new revenue sources that could help balance the budget, such as the potential sale of the Knight Center's north assets, which include the garage on the north side of the I-95 ramp, the land beneath the Bank of America office tower and its ground-floor retail.
"My point is to explore new revenues to diminish the impact to the people," he said.
Extending the lease on the Rickenbacker Marina and the installation of billboards at designated parks could also bring new sources of revenue into the city's ailing budget, he said.
One looming concern for Commissioner Sarnoff continues to be paying workers time-and-a-half for overtime.
"Overtime is a penalty for being understaffed," he said, adding the extra cost is ultimately incurred by taxpayers. "The ripest area is overtime — that's where the manager needs to sharpen his pencil."
Mr. Sarnoff also supports beefing up Miami's code enforcement by hiring nine new officers, as he said the department needs "adequate weekend coverage."
While he concedes he is adding more expenses to a budget looking for trimming, he said departments such as public safety, public works, code enforcement and parks should not be affected. Other departments may just have to bear steeper cuts, "when you are the one getting cut you are not going to like it."
He said the administration is analyzing the most effective ways to reduce departments "without firing anyone… salary cuts will be a more feasible option."
But Mr. Hernandez said salary cuts may not be a viable option for the city as 90% of employees are covered under union contracts, "you couldn't in essence reduce their salaries."
Commissioners hope the second and third meetings with Mr. Hernandez present a department-by-department breakdown to get a clear picture of how all departments are to be affected and from where additional cuts are to come.