Miami-Dade commission approves compensation review committee, presses for results fast
By Risa Polansky
Bracing for another rough budget year ahead, Miami-Dade commissioners Tuesday not only created a new review committee to evaluate employee compensation and benefits, they also pressed for a report fast.
"As soon as we can get this on the ground, the better, because we're really going to need those recommendations," Carlos Gimenez said.
Natacha Seijas in August proposed the newly approved Compensation and Benefits Review Committee, charged to "conduct a comprehensive study of all employee compensation policies and provide recommendations regarding salaries, wages and benefits," her legislation says, as well as to "periodically" advise elected leaders on compensation policies.
"I think it's about time that we look at this," Ms. Seijas said Tuesday.
The law calls for review committee meetings at least four times a year.
It needs to be more, Katy Sorenson said, stressing the necessity heading into the fiscal 2011 budget process.
She suggested the committee meet twice a month for the next six months to have a report ready in time to use it.
Commission Chair Dennis Moss said the same, encouraging the committee — yet to be formed — to meet as often as necessary to come up with recommendations.
The first report is due in May.
Next fiscal year starts in October, with the budget process kicking off during the summer.
Ms. Seijas said she envisions future reports from the review committee in February of each year but made an exception for the inaugural year given the time needed to get started.
Mr. Moss on Tuesday appointed Ms. Seijas chair of the nominating council that's to select the review committee's nine members, who will serve three-year terms, the same length of time the new ordinance governing the board will be in place.
She said she envisions tapping leaders with expertise in areas such as economics and human resources.
Compensation and benefits have been sticking points in this year's budget process, which began in July and continues now, though the fiscal year began two months ago.
Commissioners struggled in meeting after meeting to decide how to cut salaries and benefits to balance the budget — a feat that took a reported $444 million in cuts, nearly half tied to compensation.
They finally agreed in October to cut base pay 5%, or the equivalent in holiday pay, for three of the county's 10 unions.
But, waiting for the labor groups to vote, Miami-Dade has continued to pay those employees last year's salaries and benefits, racking up millions in deficits each two-week pay period.
There's been some progress.
The solid waste union voted last week, ratifying commissioners' decision and accepting the holiday pay option.
Commissioners in turn ratified the union's vote Tuesday, cementing a three-year contract with the union.
Paying reduced solid waste employee compensation will take the ongoing overages to about $6.85 million every two weeks.
That number was once $8 million until Mayor Carlos Alvarez in late October imposed a 5% pay cut on the non-union employees he oversees, taking bi-weekly losses down to about $7 million.
Reductions on seven union contracts remain outstanding.
The county is legally tussling with some, and others await hearings with special magistrates, scheduled for this month.
As this year's budget turmoil continues, commissioners frequently reference what they predict will be a tougher trial next year.
County officials are predicting a 12% hit to the already depleted property tax roll, potentially leaving Miami-Dade with $129 million less in property tax revenue than this year.
Ideas on how to wrangle with salaries and benefits will be critical next year, commissioners said Tuesday.
The legislation creating the new compensation review committee tasks members to consider the existing county pay structure, commitments in collective bargaining agreements, comparable employee compensation by area public and private employers, the county's fiscal situation and ability to meet future personnel obligations, the need to attract and retain quality staff, and the difference in salaries between supervisors and their staffers, among other factors.
From there, the committee is to recommend "the appropriate compensation policies for county employees."