Miami-Dade parks lays off 23, signal of tough budget choices ahead
By Risa Polansky
Even before Miami-Dade begins filling a gaping hole in its fiscal 2010 budget, the county's Park and Recreation Department has laid off 23 full-time employees just to make ends meet this year.
"In order for us to make our numbers this [fiscal] year, we did initiate some layoffs," department Director Jack Kardys told commissioners at a Recreation, Culture and Tourism meeting Monday.
The culprit: declining departmental revenues.
Golf course takings have fallen nearly $1 million.
Arts programs are down $300,000.
County marinas that for the last eight-plus years have had 104% occupancy are seeing occupancy rates down 95%, Mr. Kardys said.
He called the marina situation the "best indicator" of the economic crash that has sent parks revenues tumbling.
"A lot of folks have lost their boats to repossession and things like that," he said.
The layoffs, effective next month, include clerical and maintenance employees, as well as others such as swimming pool staff.
Summer programs are to continue, Mr. Kardys said, and existing staff is to work to fill the void of lost employees.
Concerned that these cuts come in the height of summer, when families rely on county parks programs for their children, Commissioner Barbara Jordan implored the administration to find a way to keep the parks department whole through high season.
"I'd like for the [county] manager to at least explore identifying the resources necessary to help parks through this summer," she said.
Committee Chair Javier Souto agreed.
But, in the face of declining revenue in nearly all categories, all departments had to cut expenditures 3% this fiscal year just to balance the county's budget.
And heading into next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, commissioners must cut about $400 million.
Mayor Carlos Alvarez was to have released his proposed fiscal 2010 budget Wednesday.
More layoffs, service cuts — and potentially a tax hike — could be in the cards to keep the budget balanced.
Commissioner Katy Sorenson, chair of the Budget, Planning and Sustainability Committee, took a moment during the recreation committee meeting to remind commissioners of what's in store.
"This is just a precursor of more to come," she said of the parks department layoffs. "We're looking at some really draconian measures this [upcoming] budget year, and this is just the beginning, I'm afraid."
Though she sympathized with other commissioners' hope to get the parks department through the summer, she pointed out it may not be realistic.
"I understand," Ms. Sorenson said. "But we can only do so much with what we've got."
To boost parks' future revenue, Commissioner Sally Heyman suggested nominal parking charges, alliances with cities to oversee parks, and private partnerships, such as an adopt-a-park program.
Already, parking is a help, Mr. Kardys said.
"Parking revenues are looking good. We are up in parking… but some of the other indicators are down a little bit."