Miami-Dade budget: A moving target of fuzzy math

Miami-Dade budget: A moving target of fuzzy math
  • Sumo

Forgive Ladra and her friends if we have lost all faith in Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos “Cry Wolf” Gimenez and the fuzzymath2county bean counters.

First, there was a $208 million shortfall in the Miami-Dade budget. Then it was $200 million. Then, if I recall correctly, it fell to $160 million. Then it was $90 million. Then it was $75 million.

Now, the shortfall in the general fund of the budget — which is going to be presented Tuesday (more on that later) — has been $64 million for almost a week!

Have we finally hit the real number? Because we went from $208 million on May 21 to less than a third of that in a little more than a month. Can’t we keep it rolling in that direction? Maybe we could even have a surplus by October.

Some people say that these are good news steps in the right direction, a sign that Budget Director Jennifer Glazer Moon and her staff — as well as department directors looking for savings under every rock — are doing a bang-up job. Moon herself seems hurt by Ladra’s jaded cynicism on the budget. Both Moon and Michael Hernandez, the mayor’s chief spokesman, say that this is what naturally happens in the budget preparation process as they identify savings and get adjusted ad valorem tax revenue projections — which came in about $50 million more than expected.

Or maybe it’s an extra $60 million. Or $70 million.

Jennifer Moon

“Tomorrow, it could be less,” Moon told me, explaining that the budget is, indeed, a moving target. “This stuff changes because there’s 1,000 moving parts and we’re trying to make them work all at the same time.”

One of those moving parts was the review of contractual obligations, like inter-local agreements with other cities. One such agreement to fund the convention center district in Miami Beach was restructured to save $18 million this year. Of course, we’re going to pay more in years to come — apparently the mayor has gotten into a habit of passing the buck — but Moon said that that particular inter-local agreement was definitely going to be extended anyway, so there’s no harm (more on that later).

She also said that she was going to use every dollar the county can save to “buy back police officers.” Of course, her heart is in the right place: She is married to a county cop. “Every dollar of general fund money I find now, I’m taking back to the police department.”

That would be to save more police jobs. The county has already gone from a proposal of 450 police layoffs to 255 as the hole in the policpolicecare department shrunk from $42 million to $27 million.

But labor leaders feel they have been forced to negotiate under a cloud of bad numbers that keep changing. They were told they had to cut salaries by 10 percent based on the old numbers we now know were bogus. Now, it’s cut healthcare benefits by 15% — based on what numbers? Ladra has asked what the cuts mean in real dollars, but apparently, that information is difficult to nail down. Bottom line: Workers were told that they had to make sacrifices and lose benefits based on those old, now bogus numbers. What are they supposed to think now?

And workers aren’t the only ones scratching their heads. Commissioner Juan Zapata spoke to Ladra about the dropping shortfall last week.

“There’s no rhyme or reason the way we do things sometimes,” Zapata said. “That fascinates me, how we went from $208 million to $75 million. All of a sudden. Because money appeared. Well, either we’re not being truthful or we are not being responsible in our projections. It’s incredibly frustrating. There’s no explanation.

“The curious thing is how do these things happen? How are you able to identify those $130 million and why couldn’t you identify it before,” Zapata asked, adding that he is not so sure that restructuring inter-local agreements is the way to go.

“We keep kicking the can down the road. And if this is the best option, why does the administration wait ’til the last minute to do these things. You don’t think they knew about this before?” Zapata laughs, but it’s the oh-shit laugh, not the that’s-so-funny laugh.

“We can’t afford to be living on this short-term band-aid existence just hoping that one day you hit the lottery,” Zapata said.

PBA President John Rivera, left, has no confidence in the numbers presented by Mayor Carlos Gimenez, right

Police Benevolent Association President John Rivera said that the $64 million number isn’t even new. Ladra couldn’t confirm it, but Rivera said that it is the exact same figure Gimenez used months ago — before it ballooned up to $208 mil — with the Miami Herald editorial board.

“How funny he used that same number,” Rivera told Ladra, meaning funny weird, not funny ha ha.

And, he said,  it’s not just the numbers in the shortfall. Mayor Gimenez cries wolf about everything, Rivera insists.

“He told us years ago and privately that we were going to have to eat a shit sandwich. Publicly he called it a big, bad pill. If we swallowed the big, bad pill, we’d be okay. So, we did,” Rivera said about the 9 percent that workers gave to a “general health care trust fund” (including the 5% they got back earlier this year) and which we later learned was really for the general fund. It also applies to other concessions in benefits that were set to “snap back” this year, but which the mayor wants to continue to withhold.

“This is the very thing he negotiated with us. That’s what the forecasts said. That’s what was projected. That was the promise of the big, bad pill,” Rivera explained. “Now he wants to force another pill down our throats for the fifth time and my members are saying enough is enough.

“Why would we believe anything he says?”

Rivera is the loudest of the labor leaders, but he is by no means alone. Other union officials say the mayor’s hardline while the budget was still moving gives them little confidence.fuzzymath

“The bottom line is you don’t come to the table with bogus numbers,” said Emilio Azoy, president of the union that represents 1,800 water and sewer employees. “You come with the truth and work on that.”

“It’s frustrating,” said Andy Madtes, president of the general employees AFSCME, the largest union in the county. “Here we’re trying to put together the best comprehensive proposal we can, and every week, the target number keeps dropping. That’s good, because at least it’s not going in the opposite direction.”

But he said it was also difficult to get workers to agree to extended concessions when they keep hearing about money found here and there — and they keep hearing about it in the news, instead of through the union leadership. In fact, most of the county employees learned of last week’s new proposal — swapping the planned salary cut for benefits cuts, instead —  through a Miami Herald story.

Read related story: Carlos Gimenez’s new bait and switch: Pay cuts to benefits

“Employees are very skeptical at the fact that the administration is claiming that they keep finding money,” Madtes told Ladra. “And I haven’t seen anything that quantifies those numbers. So they don’t want to hear about any concessions until they know what the real numbers are.”

Those “real numbers” are supposed to be made public Tuesday, when the mayor presents his final budget. Final being fluid, probably. You know, it being 1,000 moving parts and all.

But Ladra’s can’t help but smell something weird going on here. I mean, if they found $15 million for the police department and $100 million in the rest of the budget, if they found $18 million in one of dozens if not hundreds of inter local agreements, who’s to say they can’t “find” $64 mil more? Or — dare we dream? — $74 million? Or $85 million? Or $100 million?

Maybe we could be swimming in reserves if the pendulum keeps swinging that way.

10 Responses to "Miami-Dade budget: A moving target of fuzzy math"

  1. Pingback: Miami-Dade math: More for pet projects = less for cops | Political Cortadito

  2. Hasta Cuando   July 8, 2014 at 12:25 am

    Read the article below:

    It details how a retired fire captain’s son was killed in a boating accident on July 4th. If not for the cuts in the fire boats and air rescue, his son might have been saved. Apparently the fire union has all but admitted to this.

    This is sad and unfortunate. The worst of it is that it will not end here. What’s next? A police officer getting killed because the department doesn’t have enough officers patrolling and his back-up was coming from too far a distance? A child dieing because a fire rescue truck couldn’t respond somewhere on time?

    Gimenez already has blood on his hands… What next scum bag?

    • Not a fan   July 8, 2014 at 7:16 am

      The accident in question was terrible but the fact is since there was no fire involved, putting million of dollars worth of 2 fire boats on scene would have produced no better results.

      The issue at dinner key was locating victims in the bay in the dark, which is eyeballs and light. So more smaller boats with lights cover far more area than a bigger boat with a large crew pumping seawater which is exactly what mothballing the fire boat allows, shifts resources to more, smaller well suited rescue craft.

      The union knows this so to politicize the lost of life to advance a union agenda is both transparent and regrettable.

      • Mike t   July 8, 2014 at 9:49 pm

        So your saying that just because the fire boats are bigger that they were not needed? If the coast guard needed assistance do they only want small boats or every boat that’s available nearby. By the way those fire boats also have life saving equipment on board. Just like those great big fire trucks that show up when a fire rescue truck is not available.

        • Not a fan   July 9, 2014 at 1:33 pm

          I am saying with finite resouces this $3 million fireboat is not the ideal platform for search and rescue.
          I would prefer 6 smaller untis at one half million dollars each with a 3 man crew staged at the county’s 6 main marines from Haulover to Homestead tasked primarily for weekend and holiday events.

          And exactly how many rescues have the existing fireboats performed as primary first responders? You can’t count transporting victims back to shore after others have done the initial rescue.

          And since you mentioned it, yes why are we sending so may giant $250,000 fire trucks with full crews to surban slip and falls? Seems like we are still in a 100 year old business model of guys sleeping with trucks waiting on mrs. O’Leary’s cow.
          There are no fame buildings here, electricy has replaced gas lighting and current commerical building codes are both fire resistant and have sophisticated suppression systems built in.
          But SF is still gods waiting room with thousands of slip and falls. Maybe we should focus more on Mrs. O’Leary’s health and less on her cow possibly kicking over a lantern

          • Of the Opinion   July 10, 2014 at 9:16 am

            Not a Fan, The reason so many Big Fire Trucks respond to those slips and falls is simple. There are so many calls for fire rescue that they have to prioritize what calls rescue vehicles respond to and send Fire Trucks to the less serious. The rescue trucks have personnel with more advanced training and equipment then what is on a fire engine. So if you can get the citizens to stop calling for every slip and fall that they could get their family or neighbor to take them to the urgent care or ER, then maybe you won’t see the engine except at fires. By the way I am not a fireman, married to a fire fireman, or close friends/family of a fireman. And this is Just My Opinion

      • Of the Opinion   July 10, 2014 at 9:17 am

        Not a fan, reference your statement, … since there was no fire involved, putting million of dollars worth of 2 fire boats on scene would have produced no better results.” I do not know if it would have made a difference in saving any lives but apparently you are not aware that the fire boats not only have lights for searching but heat detection and other specialized equipment that would have been far superior to any human eyes and lights for locating people in the dark waters of this incident. Could the Fire Department utilize the Port personal for teh Fire Boats? Only if the Memo Of Understanding (MOU) is changed to allow the port to have no coverage in times of need for the personal to man the fire boats in other locations. So the Mayor’s proposal is possible but may not not be feasable. Just my opinion

  3. F. Marrero   July 8, 2014 at 8:03 am

    Andy Madtes? This is the same union leader who supported Gimenez in 2012 in exchange for minor concessions for his union members and at the expense of all other county employees. Madtes you helped create this problem now deal with it. Same for those firemen who donned yellow shirts with the fire department logo and walked the precincts for Gimenez on election day in 2012. You helped create the problem deal with it as well.

  4. El Indio Putumayo   July 8, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    Not a Fan, the above post doesn’t seem to be politicizing anything. It seems to be expressing an opinion and bringing something to light. Having had fire boats in the water may not have made the search more efficient but would definitely have assured that help arrived sooner. That may or may not have made a difference, but ofcourse we’ll never know.

    Like it was said before, unfortunately this will probably not be the only similar incident. The mayor has already set a price on lives. But hey, the cruise lines get their credits, we have a pretty museum named after someone that is filthy rich yet we continue to throw money into it, the convention center (where MDPD doesn’t even work off-duty at) is being given all sorts of money for the remodeling project. It’s all good right?

  5. Philip Stoddard   July 9, 2014 at 10:43 am

    Once the fluff is cleared our of a budget, we get what we pay for. The reason people incorporate in Miami-Dade is to get improved services, especially police services. Miami-Dade police tell me that they no longer have time to patrol, they just drive from call to call. The Herald story this morning says that response times will more than double from 13 to 30 min if the staff cuts go through. In the City of South Miami residents see police patrols and short response times of 2-3 minutes. Decide how much that is that worth. Ask the average voter “Do you want to pay more in property taxes for the same services?” and they will say “Hell no!”. But ask “Would you pay 3% more to see police patrols on your street and be assured a cop will show up in 150 seconds when you spot a burglar in your yard?”, and I predict the answer will change. I believe most people are willing to pay for good services, once they can be given confidence their taxes are being spent carefully on the services they want and need. I don’t count stadiums on my personal list of priority services (I do count police and libraries), but that’s just me. Tell people what enhanced services cost each of them and let the people make a properly informed opinion. People might be surprised to learn that good services don’t cost much more than bad ones.


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