Services to stay level despite tax cut, Mayor Gimenez says

By Richard Yager….

Robert Bueso greets Mayor Carlos Gimenez at KFHA forum.

Flanked by a budget analyst and information officer, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez outlined his county budget proposal in front of a standing room only Kendall audience on July 28.

The first of eight countywide forums planned in August, the former Miami-Dade District 7 Commissioner reviewed his objectives and then answered questions to explain how he would maintain existing services while cutting taxes by $230 million in fiscal 2011-12.

An overflow crowd estimated at nearly 200 packed into the Kendall Village Civic Center Pavilion first heard a budget presentation by Gimenez’s aides — Jennifer Glazer- Moon, director of the Office of Strategic Business Management, and Suzanne Trutie, assistant communications director.

Elected on June 28 to replace recalled Mayor Carlos Alvarez, Gimenez took the microphone to reconcile how a budget gap of $409 million required elimination of nearly 1,300 county employees, as well as employee concessions totaling an estimated $238 million.

His explanation for employee cutbacks: “Of the 1,300 positions, only 800 are layoffs of existing personnel; the other 500 are already vacated positions which we will review for the need of replacement.”

(Gimenez on July 28 announced new additions to his senior staff that “reduced by 11 positions as compared to the previous administration,” according to a mayor’s office release).

Defending creation of five deputy mayors at the KFHA forum, Gimenez said the reduction of the former mayoral administrators “began at the top, eliminating the county manager, and eliminating assistant county managers. Now, both mayor and manager is a single individual — me.”

Gimenez emphasized that the rugged economic times of recent years caused him “to think not only for this year but for two years ahead. That’s why this budget is based not only on a tax reduction in 2012 but for the following year as well.”

On other key questions, Gimenez answered:

• “l’m open to any ideas to further ‘close the gap’ between the two budget years, so long as they don’t effect services at the street.”

• “Keep in mind that in reducing the number of employees that we have 1,700 positions eligible to be filled of which 500 are vacant; some of those may not be filled this year to affect the savings we need.”

• “While layoffs and elimination of jobs is tough, remember what the people said on Mar. 15: Take back the former mayor’s 9.7 percent tax increase.”

• “To consolidate departments, some department heads could be eliminated but others may be switched into new positions. Departments that have overlapping areas include human resources, procurement, economic development and housing.”

• “The route FPL proposes for its new transmission line along S. Dixie Highway should go where it is the least disruptive — and I have my own idea about that which I plan to discuss with them shortly.”

• “If the Marlins want to talk about re-negotiating the current stadium financing, I would welcome a call from [general manager] David Samson.”

• “On Head Start financing, I would frankly like this taken out of the county budget and go in the school budget where it belongs, even though we would continue to support it financially.”

When KFHA vice president Michael Rosenberg, at the session’s closing, asked about Gimenez’s self-characterization as a “lone wolf” on certain past commission votes now that he appears before the commission as mayor, he responded: “Well, now I’m a bigger wolf.”

The new mayor’s budget goes before county commissioners for action at Sept. 6 and 20 public hearings. Future Town Hall meetings scheduled by Gimenez include: Aug. 9, 7-8 p.m., Palmetto Bay Village Hall, 9705 E. Hibiscus St., and Aug. 18, 7-8 p.m., Coral Gables Country Club, 997 N. Greenway Dr.

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