By Douglas Hanks
The Miami Herald
MIAMI — Facing a budget squeeze, Miami-Dade County would pare down its narcotics unit, dismiss investigators working robbery cases and close a boot camp for young convicts, according to draft planning documents released this week.
The papers outline about $65 million in spending reductions to two of the county's largest departments, police and corrections, as Mayor Carlos Gimenez warns of significant cuts next year without concessions from county employee labor unions.
Gimenez's aides emphasize the documents are preliminary and bound to change before the mayor submits his proposed budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year next month. But the proposed elimination of about 450 public-safety workers captured the bruising debate ahead over how to balance the budget. The detailed layoff plans also are adding fuel to a bitter fight between Gimenez, a former fire chief, and the county's police union.
"Every one of these criminals should be sending a little gift card to Carlos Gimenez saying: 'Thank you, because I'm going to make a lot of money robbing people, and stealing from people, and having my way with victims,' " said John Rivera, head of the Police Benevolent Association, which represents police and corrections employees. "We're going to tell people to buy bars for your windows and doors, buy attack dogs, buy firearms."
Gimenez insists public-safety cuts would be targeted to preserve core functions while thinning out desk jobs and the supervisory ranks.
"The mayor is committed to keeping the same number of officers on the street that are currently on the street," said Mike Hernandez, Gimenez's communications director. "The mayor's top priority is public safety."
The fire department, which benefits from a special property tax, faces a $4 million cut, budget director Jennifer Moon said. A shift from buying rescue helicopters to leasing them should close about $3 million of that gap. Corrections, which houses about 5,000 inmates, is being asked to cut costs by $25 million, Moon said.
While the Corrections document shows only 11 layoffs thanks to shifting civilian workers into posts currently held by better-paid sworn officers, the county police department would lose 450 positions.
Spreadsheets submitted last week by Police and Corrections outline how administrators propose to meet the cost-saving targets requested by County Hall. Among the actions under consideration:
—Cutting 35 positions at the units that investigate gangs and the squad within the narcotics units assigned to conduct raids in high-crime areas. Both units would be eliminated, with officers transferred to regular police squads. The budget submission from police administrators notes: "Due to the nature of drug trafficking and its influences on other violent crimes, it is likely these peripheral incidents may grow and proliferate."
—Eliminating the police department's Incident Management Team, which makes contingency plans for what police would do in large-scale emergencies.
—Trimming 17 payroll slots from the Special Victims Bureau, which investigates sexual assaults and assists Florida's Department of Children & Families in child-abuse cases. The change would move officers to district squads, but police administrators noted: "The loss of staffing in this area will result in delays in conducting follow-up investigations . . . and [in providing] crucial assistance to Victims of Domestic and/or Violence/Abuse cases that require to be relocated to a safe undisclosed location."
—Eliminating 22 positions at the county's robbery bureau. Because the unit has been successful "combating violent felonies," administrators wrote, "it is likely that such incidents would increase with these reductions."
—Closing the Corrections Department's "Boot Camp" rehabilitation program for young inmates. Described in department materials as being for inmates between the ages of 14 to 24, the program offers a military-style regimen to instill discipline in offenders. A related program called "I'm Ready,'' for inmates who don't qualify for Boot Camp, also is on the list of Corrections operations to be eliminated.
Corrections also plans to cut back on vocational training and other programs aimed at releasing inmates equipped with workplace skills. Moon, the budget director, said the vocation cuts are needed in order to free up the money to keep guards at their posts at levels required by federal authorities.
"If we had more money available, we would do more vocational services," she said.
County Hall began the budget process with an announced $200 million gap facing Miami-Dade for the budget year that begins Oct. 1. Thanks to slightly higher estimates on property valuations released last month, and hundreds of preliminary cuts, Moon said that has narrowed to about $90 million.
The deficit assumes Gimenez wins no concessions from labor unions before a three-year temporary cut in benefits and wages secured in 2011 automatically snap back later this year. Those concessions came on the heels of Gimenez's 2011 election to replace the recalled Carlos Alvarez, and the newly elected mayor used his popularity and backlash from the economic downturn to secure both the labor cuts and a reduction in countywide property-tax rates.
Combined with a lingering real estate slump, the cut reduced the property-tax revenue that underpins a large chunk of the county's $6 billion budget. In 2011, before the tax cut took effect, Miami-Dade collected $1.51 billion in property taxes, according to that year's financial statement. In 2013, despite a rebound in housing prices, the revenue hit just $1.27 billion -- a 16 percent decline that amounted to about $250 million in lost revenue.
Hernandez, the Gimenez spokesman, said the mayor does not believe Miami-Dade can afford to fully restore union benefits through labor negotiations that began earlier this year. Gimenez has asked county workers for a 10 percent pay cut during the first round of labor negotiations that began in recent weeks.
"The bottom line is we can work through this as a county,'' Hernandez said. "We can get through this."
Copyright 2014 The Miami Herald
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