Bell backs budget cuts, downsizing operations

By Richard Yager….

Miami-Dade Commissioner Lynda Bell (standing) is greeted by Hammocks CAC members Elisabeth Boggs, Sara Matos, and Officer Gina Hogen-Lopez.

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Lynda Bell is determined to make the county a better place for both her constituents and her eight grandchildren.

“I work for them so that one day they might be able to say, ‘There, that’s where my grandmother made a difference,’” she told members of the Miami-Dade Police Hammocks District Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) on May 25.

Bell, 54, the former Homestead mayor who replaced Katy Sorenson, said, “I’ve been told I began county service at one of the toughest economic times our county has ever seen, but I see it as a great opportunity to turn things around.

“This is my third meeting of the day — after honoring Jessica Davis this morning at a Red Cross meeting in Dadeland and addressing a Rotary-Kiwanis meeting at noon. People ask me if I get tired of this, and I tell them, “never,” just as you are take time to be the eyes and ears for your community.

“That’s the way we improve where we live, and that’s what I want to do for you and my own eight grandkids in District 8.”

In a free-wheeling commentary about county affairs and issues, the new chair of the Finance Committee said her biggest job was steering a $7 billion county budget for fiscal 2011-12, estimated to need another $400 million saving after a similar reduction a year ago.

“How do you eat an elephant, because this county is as big as an elephant in that regard,” she laughed. “But one thing we’ve done is institute a line budget to help us spot areas where we can reduce costs.

“It may seem like a little thing to pick one item here or there but we are going to do everything we can do to avoid duplication where it exists in county services.”

As a member of the commission’s Economic Development Committee, Bell wants “to help turn this down economy around by jump starting business, the backbone of our county, especially small business that gets overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork and regulations with the county,” she said.

“We need to revise much of the language business people encounter to make it easier to deal with county government,” she proposed, noting Homestead was able to open 150 new businesses in two years by streamlining regulatory requirements during her service as mayor.

Bell, as a member of the commission’s Public Health and Safety Committee, designated Jackson Memorial Hospital finances as “our most pressing problem, now helped by replacing the overseeing trust with too many conflicting opinions and now operating with a seven-member board and a new chief executive.”

“We need at least six months’ time to see how the new structure operates,” Bell said, urging every citizen to help by utilizing JMH facilities when possible.

“I, for one, am going to Jackson South for foot surgery in the future,” she said. “It’s only a small thing, but every time we use JMH facilities, we help those who otherwise could not afford hospital treatment.”

Urging a similar “people partnership with government,” she noted that media in recent coverage of JMH “buried in one story that the hospital is actually rated No. 1 in Florida in overall services. We can turn JMH around with action, not just printing the bad news to have it become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

On charter reform proposing at-large commission seats, Bell stated the present commission should remain with 13 members to represent 2.5 million people countywide.

“I have 250,000 in District 8 alone, and if we approve two at-large seats, you are simply diminishing representation for every district,” she reasoned, adding that campaign war chests for at-large candidates that necessarily could “go up to a million dollars or more will wind up having someone in office who would only answer to wealthy people.”

Downsizing by eliminating overlapping services is “the only answer” to operating the county without sacrificing primary duty of the commission to protect the safety and security of county residents, she said, noting a newly appointed independent negotiator for the county will assist in union contract issues instead of leaving matters to attorneys who represent different sides.

“We hope it will make a difference,” she concluded. “No one is targeting the police or firemen for staff reductions. Public safety is paramount and I don’t think any commissioner will compromise public health and safety in seeking savings in the coming fiscal year budget.”

Recently moving her district office to Suite 101 at 14707 S. Dixie Hwy. in Palmetto Bay, Bell noted she promised residents that if elected, she would remain accessible to constituents residing in Pinecrest, Palmetto Bay, Cutler Bay and Homestead, as well as portions of Kendall, The Falls and Redland.

The commissioner can be reached by telephone at 305-378-6677 or by email at District8@miamidade.gov.


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