In a few days, Mayor Gimenez will present his Budget plan to the Board of County Commissioners, so that they may discuss, amend as they see fit, and give preliminary approval to it on July 15 -- our impending D. Day, should the millage not be raised.
However, he has announced a plan that would patch up the Libraries' fiscal crisis, but only at the expense of our County's infrastructure.
"Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Tuesday he plans to shift tax money from the county’s core services in order to ease — but not eliminate — a looming budget shortfall for the library system.
Under the plan, Gimenez would propose a slight cut to the property taxes that fund roads, public-safety functions and other general services, accompanied by an increase in the special property tax for libraries. The shift of about $12 million in an operating budget of $5 billion would be designed as a revenue wash, with most homeowners paying the same overall tax rate despite the change in how the dollars are spent.
The Gimenez strategy seeks to satisfy his pledge of no tax increases while preventing a 40 percent drop in the money available for libraries in the budget year that begins Oct. 1. But the strategy seems unlikely to mollify his critics in the increasingly heated budget debate.
“We’re trying to strike a balance,’’ Gimenez said Tuesday. He confirmed the possibility of a shift in tax rates to avoid reductions in library hours, but said layoffs would still be part of the plan.
“We’re trying to make sure all the libraries stay open with the same number of hours,’’ he said. “That doesn’t mean there won’t be some very hefty cuts in the number of employees who work at libraries.”
Sources close to the mayor say library administrators are prepping a budget of about $45 million, less than the current $50 million budget and significantly below the $64 million library advocates say is needed to reverse several years of spending cuts and layoffs. By diverting revenue to the library system, Gimenez also risks exacerbating a budget gap that has his administration considering eliminating more than 400 police positions."
"Libraries started the budget season facing the steepest potential cut among county departments, with the special property tax that funds the system generating just $30 million of the $50 million libraries are set to spend this year. Cash reserves covering the gap are expected to be exhausted by the time the new budget year begins Oct. 1.
Gimenez plans to propose a slight increase in the library tax this year, accompanied by matching decreases to the countywide property tax and a property tax earmarked for the county’s fire and rescue services. The shift would generate enough money for a $45 million library budget, which would preserve branch hours but result in about 90 job cuts, according to preliminary estimates.
The tax-shift plan drew criticism Wednesday. The county’s marine rescue squad is not using new boats for a lack of funds, and the fire department depends on $6 million in federal grant dollars to pay about 60 employees. “If we’re contemplating a cut in other areas in order to help libraries, I’m not convinced,’’ said Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo, chairman of the Finance Committee, which held the hearing.
Al Cruz, leader of the fire-department union, said spare money from the fire tax should go toward reversing savings from prior years. “Let’s bring back what we already lost.”
So, in a poorly hashed out, haphazard plan, Mayor Gimenez has conceded two things:
- This basic premise: that it is legitimate to restore the library millage (even if he is just doing it by cutting somewhere else.)
- ...and that our pressure is working.
Yet, by doing so, he also sets up the floor for the following:
- County departments to spite each other for funding
- Forcing the public to weigh which is more important: our fire and police, or our libraries.
Is that really fair to County Services?
The Library's Special Taxing District was set up to ensure that this kind of 'fight' for funding between departments does not occur -- so that libraries, fire, and police are all protected with their allotted tax revenues.
Moreover, is this really fair to us -- the people, the residents, the taxpayers -- their constituents?
Each department plays different roles that ultimately work together to keep the county functioning. We deserve infrastructure that is whole and functioning, not dilapidated at the expense of another service.
The Fire and Police department save lives, quite literally. But so do libraries -- through literacy, through engagement, through being a safe, public, undiscriminating place for people to go to.
These services are legitimate, and without proper funding, can truly waste away.
Tell our Commissioners that enough is enough. To #Saveourlibrary means to fully-fund it at $64million, not to patch up a hemorrhaging bleed by taking stitches from another wound.