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Miami Commissioners Finally Solve Budget Crisis

CHARLES RABIN | Miami Herald via YellowBrix

September 30, 2009

Miami commissioners finally balanced the city’s 2010 budget shortly before midnight Tuesday, after unanimously accepting hard-fought agreements with the city’s police, fire and general service unions.

All told, the agreements — two of which were voted on by union members Monday, the other only a few hours before the city’s third budget hearing got under way Tuesday — will save Miami more than $27 million. Just as importantly, the pacts will save the jobs of more than 400 employees.

Still, Miami heads into next budget year on the tightest of margins, with services sure to be scaled back in key areas as a way to plug a $118 million budget hole. Navigating that budget will be a new mayor, either Commissioner Joe Sanchez or Tomás Regalado.

After 4 ½ hours of debate Tuesday — and three budget hearings in all — commissioners voted unanimously to adopt a $512.7 million budget.

The vote came after a public battle between Mayor Manny Diaz and city unions over pay and benefits. Ultimately, unions had to agree to concessions or lose jobs. With the clock ticking, the unions and the city forged an agreement.

But the accords did not come easily. Charlie Cox, president of the city’s American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union, said negotiations with city administrators had been so confusing he wasn’t sure how many of his troops would lose jobs. First, he said he was told 86, then that number changed to 210.

``Some of those things they asked for at the beginning of the negotiations, the numbers just kept changing,’’ Cox said.

Miami took the unusual step last Thursday of continuing its second budget hearing to Tuesday to give the city’s three main unions time to reach deals with the administration. It meant city leaders had to haggle through Tuesday evening — leaving the city close to a state-imposed deadline of midnight Sept. 30 to have a budget deal in place.

If the city does not send a document showing a balanced budget by that time, it risks losing its share of state revenues, which this budget year come to about $32 million, said Budget Director Michael Boudreaux.

Commissioners were working from a budget crafted by Mayor Diaz that came with a $28 million hole even after earlier city cutbacks. Diaz gave the board’s five members two choices: Lay off up to 500 of the city’s 3,500-person workforce, or find the cuts to make up the difference.

The commission had left itself in a tough spot when earlier this month it voted to leave the property tax rate flat at $7.67 for every $1,000 of taxable property. That means the owner of a home in Miami valued at $260,000, assuming its value went down, could pay about $180 less in taxes to the city this year then last.

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