Political Cortadito REPORTS: Miami-Dade budget: [Gimenez] has money for his priorities, not ours...

Political Cortadito:

Miami-Dade budget: Mayor has money for his priorities, not ours

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Last year, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez scolded county commissioners for plans to protect the environment, reduce crime in South Dade, create programs for children and fund fare-free circulators, like the trolleys in many cities, in unincorporated parts of Miami-Dade.

We ain’t got the money, honey, the mayor told them. He complained of a five-year budget shortfall that would prevent many of their initiatives from happening.

But last month, Gimenez told the same commission that he wants to spend $1.8 billion over the next 20 years on improvements at existing facilities — spackling, painting and fixing air conditioners. It also includes improving energy usage and security, adding parking and “replacing furnishings.” Really. New furniture? This is what Gimenez wants his legacy to be. Well, this and the contracts he got for his friends and family.
But wait a minute. Isn’t that exactly the amount needed to build the South extension of Metrorail that voters wanted when they passed the half cent tax and that Gimenez sorta promised during his re-election campaign? Why, yes, it is. Sure, people will say, “But there are operating costs every year.” To which Ladra answers, but that is the job of government, to provide services and infrastructure that the people want and, in this case, voted for.
There is no way that the people would approve $1.8 billion in spackle and paint. Put it to a vote and see.
Maintaining county facilities cost money each year. And the neglect in recent years — whether a result of budget impacts or an intentional ruse to make some properties need more costly repairs — is no reason to suddenly change course to make everything shiny. Just up your maintenance game.
If commissioners approve the mayor’s proposed $8.9 billion budget after two public hearings next month, the plan is to spend about $125 million in the first year to bring county facilities up to the most recent building code. Do they have to? Probably not.
This “countywide infrastructure investment program” is the mayor’s budget equivalent of an umbrella “miscellaneous projects contract” — you know, like the one Munilla Construction Management got extendedlast month — that could cover myriad future costs that we don’t even know about right now. Nana nina. Let those things get fixed and paid for one by one, as they need it. That way, our capable county staff can find grants and other ways to pay for it.
Commissioners should flatly reject this slush fund. Ladra would hope that at least those who hope to replace Gimenez — Esteban “Stevie” Bovo, Daniella Levine Cava, Jean Monestime andXavier Suarez — to have issues with these future funds being spent by their predecessor, if not concerns about their own priorities.
They should also ask questions about other budget items.
Like, why is only about 5% of our county revenue from state and federal grants? Why does the county need to spend $4 million to renovate the Country Club of Miami golf course? Seriously. Why are you using the tax dollars of millions of people who don’t play golf? Why can’t we get some organization to renovate it in return for usage or some golf ball brand to fund it in return for publicity? And $3.2 million to “add parking” at the brand new animal services center in Doral? The one that was just built the other day? Is the parking there really full all the time? How much more parking do we need?
And again, isn’t that something that could be solved with better mass transit?
While the tax rate remains flat for the most part (there is a tiny increase proposed for the debt tax that means about $24 a year for a homeowner with a $300,000 house), another yearly rise in property taxes means that the county will have more money to work with. Again. Hundreds of millions more. Again.
What do we get for that? Besides more of the library hours that the mayor took away in 2014? Well, 21 new positions to start with. Staff additions in the proposed budget include five cops, five prison guards, seven people for parks and recreation, one new person in Human Services and two cultural affairs posts.
Wait a minute. Two cultural affairs posts? In addition to the seven new jobs in parks and rec? What do those people do? Work we can’t get interns or volunteers to do? And are all the employees going to be new additions, or (more likely) are some posts eliminated and existing staff transferred over?
Other perks from the new money include more than $520,000 to clean up the smelly sargassum from the beaches and a $550,000 dog park in Liberty City. Let’s hope the cities of Miami Beach and Miami are also chipping in.
The mayor’s budget brief has eight categories for county expenses:
  • The largest is public safety — police, fire, corrections, courts, county clerk and the medical examiner’s office — which takes 31 cents out of every dollar.
  • Next is neighborhood and infrastructure — animal services, water & sewer, solid waste — which takes 20 cents of every dollar.
  • Economic development is next — aviation, seaport, economic advocacy trust, regulatory and economic resources — with 14 cents of every dollar.
  • Health and society is next — human services, community action and development, Homeless Trust, public housing — with 10 cents of every dollar.
  • Transportation and mobility — transportation and public works — gets 8 cents of every dollar.
  • Same thing for Parks and Recreation — which also includes libraries and the cultural affairs department — which gets another 8 cents of every buck.
  • Government services —  elections, finance, HR, IT, communications, budget, audit, Inspector General, Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, internal services and property appraiser — gets 7 cents of every dollar.
  • Policy and administration — the mayor’s office, board of commissioners and the county attorney’s office — get one penny of every dollar. But don’t feel bad. That still amounts to $89 million.
Why does only 8 cents of every dollar go to transportation and mobility while 14 cents of the same dollar goes to economic development, which often translates into giveaway incentives. Mass transportation and efficient mobility is the best economic development incentive we could invest in. Perhaps those two percentages should switch.
The budget also calls for more vehicles into the county’s fleet, according to the mayor’s budget message. But let’s first make sure those other new vehicles the county bought aren’t still parked in a garage somewhere, hmm?
So, yeah, there are plenty of questions about this year’s budget, which hasn’t gotten the same media attention of other years. Ladra hardly expects many crowds at this year’s public meetings at 6 p.m. tonight and Thursday.
Tonight meetings are at:
  • West Dade Regional Library, 9445 Coral Way
  • West Kendall Regional Library, 10201 Hammocks Blvd.
  • Milander Center for Arts and Entertainment, 4800 Palm Avenue, Hialeah
  • William F. Dickinson Community Center, 1601 N. Krome Ave., Homestead
On Thursday, the meetings are at:
  • Aventura City Hall, 19200 Country Club Drive, Aventura
  • North Dade Regional Library, 2455 NW 183rd St., Miami Gardens
  • South Dade Regional Library, 10750 SW 211th St., Cutler Bay
  • Arcola Lakes Library Branch, 8240 NW 7th Ave., Miami

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