Miami, county commissioners seek pay freeze at the top
By Yudislaidy Fernandez and Risa Polansky
City and county commissioners are asking for salary cuts to top-tier positions as local governments tighten their belts with budget cuts on the way.
Miami commissioners had contemplated the idea since last month, when discussion over whether to approve a city employee's 5% pay raise led commissioners Marc Sarnoff and Tomás Regalado to propose the salary freeze.
"Everybody up here is a steward of the city's money," Mr. Sarnoff said, later adding the city is going to have difficult decisions to make next budget. "We have a catastrophe looming for this coming year."
Following the commissioners' directive, City Manager Pete Hernandez presented his plan last week to freeze salaries of executive-level jobs not unionized, which excludes police and fire department positions, and make cuts to the current budget.
"I have heard and I understand the commission's desire," he said.
The measure would affect the pay raises of 165 government employees, he added.
As part of the cutbacks, Mr. Hernandez said this year's budget is going to get tightened when re-visited mid-year.
He said the administration is to come back with a proposal to make additional reductions to the current $525 million budget in preparation for a gloomier 2009-2010 budget.
Next year's budget looks to be "difficult" for the city, he added.
Some Miami-Dade commissioners are also seeking across-the-board salary cuts at the county level.
The Transit, Infrastructure & Roads Committee at a meeting last week directed County Manager George Burgess to consider making a 3% across-the-board cut to administrators making $125,000 a year or more.
They advised he consider furlough days and suggested he take a look at attrition in each department.
The move came amid discussion of the county's troubled transit department.
A savings plan by Mr. Burgess that asks each county department to cut its current budget by 3% means transit must reduce bus routes earlier than planned this year, eliminating about 2.1 million miles, Director Harpal Kapoor said.
Part of the plan is to identify lesser-used routes and run those busses less frequently in an attempt to avoid cutting more productive routes.
Still, Commissioner Natacha Seijas said, rather than balance a budget on the backs of riders who already saw transit services reduced last year, the department should first consider reducing well-paid employees' salaries.
If not, "I will find it completely and absolutely offensive to the people that we serve," she said.
Committee Chair Barbara Jordan backed the idea, suggesting Ms. Seijas formally direct the manager to take a look at making the cuts across the board — she did.
Commissioner Carlos Gimenez chimed in to support the measure — "I would rather, much rather, see those kinds of measures versus putting people on the street" — and added that Mr. Burgess consider furloughs and examine attrition.
In these tough economic times, he said, "I think it's going to get to that."