By Mayor Matti Herrera Bower….
I do not have to tell you that the past couple of years have been tough economically for all of us, but I do want to give you a peek inside what we at the city have been doing to protect and serve your interests – on a shrinking budget.
Over the last two years, we’ve identified more than $50 million in cuts from the budget, as well as eliminating about 250 full-time positions by streamlining every city department and doing more with less.
Right now, we are looking at a gap of about $32 million for next year’s budget, which starts on October 1. That is a lot to cut from a total budget of less than $240 million (especially since pension costs keep rising). Since we have already made all the obvious cuts, we had to put everything on the table to continue to run this city at the level you expect and deserve.
Let me tell you, it has been a painful process as we sit together and dissect the budget line by line, deciding whether to reduce or eliminate certain programs, services and jobs – or to raise some fees and possibly the millage. We also had to wrestle with our unions, asking them for nearly $15 million in concessions to help get us to $32 million.
In some cases, the debates have been long and loud as we have tried to make sure that the City of Miami Beach continues to provide the best possible service to the most people. We have looked at everything from how many times a month we cut the grass to how many lifeguards are watching the beach, and whether to reduce grants to social service and cultural organizations.
Something a lot of people do not realize is that only about 28 percent of the property taxes you pay actually go to the city. The rest goes to the state, county and school district. We have about 85,000 residents, but on any given day our population is twice that and we’re open 24/7. Being the tourism engine of the region has its benefits, but it also puts a great burden on the infrastructure and taxes and fees do not always cover the true cost of those impacts.
On Sept. 15 and Sept. 20, we will have open budget hearings and I hope you will attend and speak your mind about the priorities you see for the city in the year ahead. This is not an easy process and I will take all your concerns to heart as we make the difficult choices that must be made.