As the slumping economy drives most people to cut costs, the CBS 4 I-Team learned lawmakers aren’t doing the same with your tax dollars.
Here’s what the CBS4 I-Team Investigator Stephen Stock found after pulling the Miami-Dade county budget for the past three years.
Stock found that your tax dollars paid for things like magazines, satellite radio, travel expenses and even holiday cards.
Taxpayers initially paid for a commissioner’s $133 satellite radio.
They also paid $10,000 in holiday cards and another commissioner’s travel expenses to conferences that included Las Vegas, Milwaukee and Washington, D.C.
In 2007-2008, the 13 commissioners spent a total of $11.1 million on items that, in some cases, served them.
Former Miami-Dade County Commission Chairman Bruno Barreiro who in October of 2007 charged taxpayers $133.91 for Sirius satellite radio on his county vehicle said he has since paid it back.
“I can tell you on the Sirius Radio, I reimbursed that,” Barriero told Stock. “I paid that out of my own personal [account].”
“You paid it back for the Sirius radio?” Stock asked.
“Yes,” Barriero said.
Stock questioned Barreiro on other expenses.
“What about this cell phone service? A thousand dollars, $21,000 on advertising, $18,000 on publication?” Stock asked.
“I have no sat…no … I have my own personal cell phone,” Barriero said. “That (the thousands spent on cell phones) might be staff (when totaled) all together.”
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Dorrin Rolle sent holiday cards to 25,000 different constituents at a cost of 40 cents a piece.
Cost to you, the taxpayer? $10,000 annually.
One of the constituents who received the card titled “Holiday Greetings” was William Reynolds.
“It’s a very nice greeting card,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds remembers getting the card this year.
“I didn’t need it. It went into the garbage so it’s kind of a waste of money,” Reynolds said. “It does seem like an elaborate way to spend some money when we’re trying to tighten down.”
“It’s something I continue to do,” Rolle said.
The holiday cards, along with more than $50,000 in other printing and postage costs, comes from Rolle’s personal commissioner budget.
It’s a budget that each of the 13 county commissioners receive each year to spend on office expenses. It is a budget paid for by you, the taxpayer.
“I don’t know the cost of it,” Rolle told Stock. “What you’re giving me, I don’t know if it’s true or not. But it’s something that I will continue to do because I like the people in the community have come to me and said, ‘Thank you for the Christmas card.’ So I don’t think it’s an undue expenditure. It’s something I will continue to do.”
Stock asked, “Even in these tight economic times?”
“It’s something that I continue to do,” Rolle said. “In fact, I’ll try to send you one.”
In an e-mail from Rolle’s office sent to the I-Team on January 12, 2009, he confirmed he spent $10,000 to send Christmas cards to 25,000 people. He maintained it was an appropriate expenditure of his commissioner’s individual account.
You can read Commissioner Rolle’s entire e-mail to the CBS4 I-Team regarding these Christmas cards by clicking here.
Then there is the $21,943 spent in fiscal year 06-07 by commissioner Sally Heyman on travel expenses.
Heyman traveled to places like Las Vegas, Milwaukee and Washington, DC.
“In today’s tight economic times is this a place to cut? ” Stock asked. Heyman replied that in her trips she helped land more jobs, funding and projects that would benefit all of Miami-Dade County.
“Regardless of the times, even if we were flush with money if I can get a return of $22 million dollars, $32 million dollars for the seaport (for example),” Heyman said, “I’ll continue to do that.”
Another example: former State Senator, now county County Commissioner Javier Souto, who spent $79,213.98 last year and $83,296.00 the year before on publications and advertising. That’s $79,000 and $83,000 spent in excess of what he had budgeted for publications and advertising alone.
Stock tried to get answers about this from Souto at a recent county commission meeting in December.
“I’m going to lunch right now,” Commissioner Souto said. “Can we talk after lunch?” Stock said. “You’re several thousand over the expenses. Can we talk after lunch?”
After Souto nodded, Stock said “We’ll call you.”
“All right,” replied Souto.
Despite assurances he’d answer our questions, Souto later failed to return repeated requests for an explanation.
Several commissioners pointed out that this is discretionary spending and they can legally move money around from line item to line item, even go over the $878,000 budgeted for their personal spending, as they see fit.
Though most of us have to spend within our budgets at home, some Miami-Dade County Commissioners apparently found that difficult to do.
Each commissioner is budgeted to spend $878,000 in 2007-2008, according to original paperwork sent to the I-Team from the county’s finance department. However, five commissioners– Joe Martinez, Rebeca Sosa, Sally Heyman, Dennis Moss and Carlos Gimenez — spent more than that $878,000 originally allotted to them.
Combined the five commissioners were over budget by a total of $269,135.33. County Commissioner Joe Martinez spent $99,260.45 more than he’d been initially budgeted.
In the fiscal year 06-07 county finance records show that the top spender was Barbara Jordan, who went $79,315.91 over the amount originally budgeted for her expenses.
The CBS4 I-Team put in several requests with Commissioner Barbara Jordan and Commissioner Joe Martinez’s offices for an on-camera interview to get explanations.
We have yet to hear back from any of them.